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 controlling the Rajah? And … what does the jadess want with Polly? Chapter 1 is here.
Chapter 20: Delivery of Flowers
I did get sick. I woke up the next morning with a headache and a fever, and my legs shook like crazy when I stood up. I heard a knock on my door and called out to Maria to come in. She looked worried when she saw me.
“Oh Polly, are you sick?” she asked, coming towards me and laying a hand on my forehead. Her hand felt pleasantly cool. “You are! You must go and lie down, I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you certainly can’t go to court. I’ll go tell the Enchanter.”
“Oh, but I have to!” I cried. I kept standing up, even though my legs quivered like jelly beneath me. This was terrible. The jadess could do so much if I was gone.
Instantly I felt ashamed of how lax I had been lately. How many times had I let the Rajah out of my sigh, or had forgotten to watch him? Not too many, but half the time I had nearly forgotten why I was at court, with all the court intrigues going on around me. I had no idea of who the jadess could be yet, or if she was even at court. It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, on top of the nausea that was already there.
“Nonsense,” said Maria. “The court can get on without you.” I’d forgotten she didn’t know my real pretence. I struggled uselessly, as she firmly pushed me back to my bed.
“Please,” I said, “I’ll be fine after breakfast. Just let me go down and eat something.”
She stepped back and surveyed my cotton and lace nightgown. “Well, you’re decent at least. Maybe you should go down and have little breakfast, but I don’t think you should go to court today.”
So I dizzily and shakily made my way down all the steps to the first floor kitchen, and collapsed in a chair by the fire. Paulina was making breakfast, but she stopped when she saw me.
“Oh Polly, you look terrible!” she cried. “It must be from the rain last night. If Casper makes you go to court today I’ll – I don’t know what I’ll do!”
I laughed weakly at her attempts to be fierce. She was such a pretty, dainty, blond little princess it really was quite comical.
I gave her the same spiel about being fine after breakfast, but I think she believed it even less than Maria had. And I wasn’t sure I believed it either. It took inhuman effort to keep myself sitting upright in my chair.
Then Casper came in, all dressed for court.
“Polly, you’re sick,” he said accusingly.
“Not really,” I protested weakly.
“Go right back up to bed,” he ordered, “Before you collapse, or get the rest of us sick.”
“But – what about the court?” I asked him, feeling surprised.
“We’ll figure something out,” he replied. “Now go upstairs.”
“Please,” Paulina said. “I think she’d be more comfortable if I just made a bed up down here. And it would be easier for us to take care of her.”
Casper shrugged and threw up his hands. “You women do what you want. It’s only my house.”
I smiled weakly at Paulina. I certainly didn’t relish the idea of lying on the third floor all by myself all day.
Then Maria came in. She faced the Enchanter on her tiptoes, so she could look him in the eye, and began bullying him to let me stay home, until Paulina told her I already was. Then she helped Paulina make up a bed for me in the kitchen.
“You know, we were so worried yesterday,” Maria said, tucking the sheets in around me. The bed felt heavenly. “When we arrived at the stables and saw Shenaira without a rider we didn’t know what to think. The whole court was frantic. They were all certain you had fallen off, but I knew you had been keeping your seat well the whole ride there, so I feared worse things. Then the Enchanter turned up, and he told us he was going to look for you, starting with the streets of Araba.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “It was stupid of me.” My eyes drifted shut.
“Oh, I’m not blaming you,” said Maria. “It wasn’t your fault.”
I drifted into a restless sleep after that. When I woke up Maria had left, and it was still rather early in the morning. Casper was sitting with his feet up on the table (he would persist in doing that!) and Paulina was washing up. She turned to me.
“I’ve got breakfast for you, if you can stomach it,” she said.
I struggled into a half-sitting position. Come to think of it, I was hungry. I wasn’t sick to my stomach, I just had a miserable cold.
She brought me orange juice, gruel and some figs. I began eating it, wincing when food touched my sore throat, and feeling my head pounding between my ears. I felt so sick, but it was nice to eat.
“So, is the jadess having a field day while I’m lying here?” I asked.
“No,” said Casper. “I sent Stefan to court. Some desperate question on magical matters pertaining to the kingdom needing an answer from the Rajah, but if Stefan’s clever he’ll manage to stay there all day.”
I relaxed a little, relieved at that. I’d managed to finish my breakfast, and Paulina took the tray away.
It was so comfortable to lie there, in the Angarian-style kitchen I’d been missing without realising it. I really hadn’t realised how exhausting court had been, and how much it had changed my routine. I soon felt as if I’d hardly ever left, but I wondered how Paulina, Stefan, and the Enchanter felt. They’d probably all gotten into their own little routine without me, and I’d disrupted it. Especially Stefan’s having to intrude at court all day!
About mid-morning Paulina picked up a basket and told me she was going to market. I wondered at her going alone, but she seemed used to it by now. Casper went into his workshop then too, leaving me all alone.
I’d forgotten how boring it was to be sick. I lay, flat on my back, staring at the ceiling, too tired to do anything but desperately bored doing nothing. The painful ache was more miserable now in the back of my throat, and I had nothing to take my mind off it. Basically, there was nothing to do but sleep, and I can only do that for a couple minutes at a time. I envied Paulina, who could just leave.
Faraway in the depths of the house I could hear the ticking of the clock Paulina and I had wound up the day we’d searched the whole house for the object Casper’s magic might come from. At first it was nice, because it broke the silence and kept me from going crazy, but after a while the ticking itself began driving me crazy. I sneezed violently into my handkerchief. The only good thing about having the clock wound up was that I could keep track of time if I counted the rings.
But my! time went by so slowly!
I had a book, but my arms soon tired of holding it up, and my eyes ached from reading it. Irritably I put it down. In the workshop adjacent to the kitchen I could faintly hear the Enchanter moving around, and I wondered what he was doing. Radagast padded in to check on me once, then padded back out again.
That was too bad. I would have welcomed the company.
Then there was a rap on the door. At first I thought it was Paulina, but I realised she would have just walked in. Casper poked his head out of his workshop and looked at me.
“Can’t you get it?” he asked. “Well, I guess not.” Sighing, as if to say ‘look how much work you’re putting me through!’ he went out into the entrance hall. I snorted after him. Still looking for sympathy, and who was the sick one?
I heard a muffled conversation, and then he came back. Well, it was slightly hard to tell, because he was almost completely covered in a bouquet of roses, but I was sure it was him. The roses were pink and rather clashed with his hair.
“Get-well-flowers,” he said from underneath them. “Where do you want them?”
I stared at them. “Um, on the table, I guess. Are they really for me?”
“Do you see anyone else sick in this house?” he asked. “Ouch!” A rose had stabbed him, and a drop of blood formed on his finger.
“Quit whining,” I said. “You’re an Enchanter. Heal it.”
“You still don’t understand magic, do you,” Casper replied, shaking his head. “It can be a force to move and build things. And it can be solidified, to create things, but the solidification has to be maintained. Now,” he held up his finger, “I could create a piece of skin to fix this, but I’d either have to maintain it for the rest of my life, or I’d have to take it off someday and leave it to heal on its own. And I’m telling you, the more things you’re maintaining at the moment, the harder it is to do new magic.”
“Oh,” I said. I looked at the flowers. They really were beautiful.
“Who’re they from?” I asked. Casper threw the card at me.
“Carmen!” I said. “Maria must have told her I was sick. She says she was very glad to hear I got home safely, and she hopes I’ll enjoy the roses.”
“You might, but I’m not,” Casper replied, sucking his bleeding finger with an almost sulky expression on his face. I laughed.
“Well, she didn’t send them to you, did she?” I said.
Paulina came back from market, and exclaimed over my roses. Then she put her purchases away and began putting the flowers in water so they’d keep longer. She was more skilled at handling them than Casper, because she didn’t get pricked once.
Casper went out somewhere then, and Paulina made me some chicken broth. It was very good, but not exactly like Gretchen used to make for me when I’d gotten sick before. I finished it all off and smiled at her.
“I would say you officially know how to cook,” I told her.
“Well, I’m getting lots of practice now that you’re not here so often,” she replied. “But I’m not sure I like doing it all the time, like you do. Though I think if I ever get back to Angaria I’ll cook myself, however un-princesslike it is, every once in a while.”
“You do that,” I laughed. “Shock the pompous court out of their wits.”
She smiled and had started washing up my bowl and spoon when there was another knock on the door. So she went to get it. When she came back she had a large bouquet of tiger lilies in her hands.
“Well, look at this,” she said. “It’s from Earl Hearn. He hopes you get well soon too.”
Not long after that the door was rapped again. This time Paulina came back with hibiscus, from Earl Seanit. Soon the kitchen was crowded with flowers from my well-wishers, roses and violets, gladiolas and lilies, carnations, tulips, lotus flowers and orchids. The tallest one was an arrangement of hollyhock and spiky leaves, and the largest was an arrangement of yellow lilies from Lady Indira. There was a large assortment of roses, mostly from the earls, and some rather spectacular pansies. The kitchen was beginning to look like a jungle.
“They’re all so beautiful,” I murmured, smelling a bouquet of purple roses. It surprised me the court all thought so well of me. Not surprisingly there was none from Cassandra, but rather surprisingly some of Mandarine’s group had sent their well-wishes. I was not sure whether that was because they liked me, even though I was on Carmen’s side, or if it was because they wanted me back at court they could continue plaguing me, or if they were only doing it because the rest of the court was.
Paulina came back into the kitchen from answering the door. “Well, someone’s slightly more creative,” she said. She was holding a cut-glass bowl full of brilliant water lilies I opened the card.
“It’s from the Rajah,” I said. “How nice of him.” Somehow I just couldn’t think of him as Rinaldo.
There was no room on the table for the display, so Paulina squished it onto the mantle beside Earl Seanit’s hibiscus. It made Earl Laftan’s orchids look in danger of falling off the other end, but there was no other place for them.
The door was rapped again, and Paulina sighed. But it was not more flowers at the door, only Maria come to visit me. She looked relieved when she heard the Enchanter was out. They were civil to each other, but she certainly didn’t like him much.
“Oh, how nice,” she said when she saw my array of bouquets. “Are they all from the court?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “If you see any of them, please tell them thanks.”
Paulina offered her tea and spicy cakes, but Maria declined. Since Maria was now there to keep me company Paulina decided to get out and play ball with Radagast. Maria and I were left facing each other.
“Did you go to court today?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Only to tell them you were sick,” she replied.
I reached out to straighten an arrangement of lotus flowers that was within arms reach of my bed.
“It was nice of the court to send me flowers,” I said. “But –“ I hesitated and looked at Maria. I didn’t want to sound rude.
“I mean, I’ve always heard Chaldea has had hard times since the League of Enchanters left,” I continued. “But when I go to court there’s all these jewels, fancy dresses, finery… And now they’ve all sent me flowers. I used to be a flower girl, you know, I know all these would cost a lot.”
Maria snorted. “That’s the court ladies for you! They never bother their pretty little heads with finances, so how could they be expected to know? Half their families are barely making it now-a-days as it is, and yet they spend money like water!”
“That’s why,” she looked at me, “It would be such an unsuitable match if the Rajah were to marry one of them.”
She got up and paced the room, around the flower-laden table. “And the earls aren’t much better. Most of the young ones are spoiled sons, whose fathers just give them what they want. And the older ones are too pompous to see what’s in front of their faces. Since the time of the Rajah’s grandfather things have been going downhill, because the magic that was maintaining them was taken away, and this whole country’s getting poorer. But does the court see that?”
“I was right then,” I said. “I told the Rajah Chaldea needed the League of Enchanters.”
“Does it ever!” Maria exclaimed. “I tell you, when I’m the Rajah’s wife I’ll do my best to re-establish it. We need it, it’s absolutely plain. One blasted Enchanter certainly can’t do it all.”
I looked at her. She was completely self-assured as she spoke.
“Do you love the Rajah?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. I’d half expected her to be as cynical about love as Janeira, but I was glad she was not.
“I think relations with Sabea could be restored,” she continued, softer. “Ties between our countries have always been strong. All we need to do is humble ourselves a bit.”
I watched her. “You could do it,” I said. “I can see you doing it.”
She let out a long sigh. “I have remained away from court for – what, a month now? And when I returned to ride with you to Benishada, the Rajah greeted me as if we had seen each other yesterday. I do not believe – he notices whether I am there or not.”
I stared at her. “So that is why you are re-ordering your estate.”
“Yes,” she said, staring at the explosion of flowers sitting on the table. “Yes, that is why I am…”
I swallowed a reply to that, because I was not sure she wanted to hear reassurances from the girl who had received a boatload of flowers, including some from the Rajah, after only one day missing from court.