Category Archives: All My Stories & Extras

Do Spoilers Spoil Stories?

Spoilers, by Paulina Van VlietSpoilers ruin everything. They rip out ask the suspense and enjoyment, they wreck– Wait, you’re saying people actually like a work MORE if it’s been spoiled for them? Are you serious?

This is what Derek Thompson argues in “In Defense of Spoilers.” Apparently, anticipation of a twist can take away our enjoyment of the parts of the movie or book that don’t lead up to the twist. Or maybe we just like predictability. Anyway, research by psychologists has shown people rate stories higher when all the plot twists have been spoiled for them ahead of time.

Okay, okay, there’s truth in this.

For example, I’ll use Emma, by Jane Austen. I’ve already written it was much better the second time I read it, and that was mainly because I knew what was going to happen. The first time I didn’t know, so I didn’t think anything was happening. Anyone who’s read it knows it’s a lot of descriptions of conversations in a quiet English town. But it’s also been described as ‘a mystery without a murder’–there’s so many clues in all the ‘nothing’ that goes on, and it all adds up to something. But the first time you read it, you don’t realized there’s a mystery at all. And I, at first, was a bit bored and confused.

And shouldn’t this research make sense? Don’t we tell the same stories over and over again? How many times has the Cinderella plot been used? (Including by me, here). And I’ve already admitted I’ll watch almost any version of retelling of Pride and Prejudice, over and over again.

So we love the same old stories, the seven basic plots, the Save the Cat story outline… We might as well stop with the attempts at original stories, right? Might as well quit worrying about spoilers. We’d enjoy everything so much more that way.

No, but wait! There’s something else…

When we worry about spoilers, we worry about losing that sense of surprise and satisfaction when we see the pieces suddenly fit together. Not every work is good at this, but every once in a while we come across a book that manages to turn itself inside-out in the last pages. The turn of events blows your mind.

This elusive feeling is something we chase in every movie and novel we read (or, at least, I do). You can enjoy a movie or a book without it. You can love a book that doesn’t give you this feeling. But this feeling is unique enough and wonderful enough it’s worth looking for.

Spoilers, of course, steal the opportunity for this feeling away.

Back to Emma–your first initial read where you think nothing is going on is so important to the work! Because it’s that first read where you’re in Emma’s point of view, it’s that first read where you trust her and believe whatever she thinks she sees. There’s no sensations to compare your second read to if you haven’t had the first. You can hunt for clues the whole time on your first read instead, but you ARE missing out on something if you know what you’re looking for.

And that’s the whole point of avoiding spoilers, isn’t it? There’s an experience you’ll miss if someone spoils it for you. You’ll lose something you’ll never get back, and you’ll never know if there’s any amount of enjoyment that will make up for losing that initial experience. You’ll never know what that would’ve felt like.

Plot twists shouldn’t be the end-goal for every book or movie. Clearly, people can enjoy stories that are predictable. But I’d argue we should still try to prevent spoilers as a service to our fellow humans, because some experiences can’t be recreated once spoiled. People can at least try for that mind-turning experience. And if spoilers improve the experience – well, that’s what a second reading is for.

What’s your thoughts on spoilers?

 

Illustration by Paulina Van Vliet. All rights reserved.

 

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Peck Out Her Eyes, She Deserves It!

Vindictiveness in Fiction

'Just Desserts,' by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

‘Just Desserts,’ by Paulina Smit. Creative Commons.

Some versions of Cinderella end with her ordering her bird-friends to peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. Yes, the sweet, lovely Cinderella whom we all heard about as a kid – though clearly not the Disney version. Apparently she decided to take revenge and punish her sisters by blinding them in the most gruesome way she could think of. Or, in other versions of the story, exiling them to the wilderness, or forcing them to be slaves.

 I always preferred the endings where she invites her stepsisters and stepmother to live in the castle instead, and teaches them how to be gracious. After all, Cinderella is supposed to be better than them, and if she resorts to petty vindictiveness to punish them, how is she better than her stepsisters, who mistreated her because she was prettier than them?

(See my version of Cinderella, Prince Charming, to see what I think about the character of the prince!)

 I always wanted to think if anyone could be outstandingly forgiving, it was Cinderella. And I always wanted to think the stepsisters learned to be better people after what happened. Maybe I’m just an optimist about humanity.

 But, strangely enough, vindictiveness is a strong theme in many works of fiction. I mean, take The Count of Monte Cristo. This is a book completely centred around a man taking revenge, it is regarded as a true classic, and its plot keeps getting used by many other works (the movie, The Mask of Zorro, for instance, and Charade, an actual Christian inspirational fiction book that uses the same plot).

 In the book, the Count of Monte Cristo takes great pleasure in revenge. He manipulates a man’s wife to commit suicide and take her son with her as well, driving the man insane. Then he destitutes another man, and causes a third to commit suicide. Of course, the point of the book is that they all deserved it, but still…

 Clearly, punishing people who were mean to you is attractive to most readers, and I’m not really surprised this natural human reaction is so popular. Everyone likes to see someone get their comeuppance. I am surprised that I don’t enjoy it. Like I said before, I like the versions of Cinderella where she doesn’t punish her stepsisters, and the parts of The Count of Monte Cristo where he relents instead of taking revenge. But this quirk of mine ends up interfering with my enjoyment of other classics as well.

 Take Roald Dahl. Everyone loves Roald Dahl! Everyone’s read at least a dozen of his books in their childhood – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, etc. So I read them too, and they confused me like crazy. As a kid, I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to laugh or feel bad (I actually felt bad) when James’ aunts get flattened by the giant peach, or Veruca Salt gets carried away by squirrels.

 So while I knew these books were wonderfully creative and inventive – no one’s written about being inside a chocolate factory before! And definitely not a chocolate factory that was so fun – I couldn’t get past feeling uncomfortable with them. In this case, I never particularly felt that the characters in the book were the vindictive ones – Charlie, or James, for example. It was just this undercurrent of vindictiveness that ran through most of the books – as if the author himself was exorcizing his demons.

 So here’s the thing – bad characters should learn something, or be punished, or whatever makes a satisfactory ending to a story. But what I find uncomfortable is when other characters take this into their own hands. Because I don’t believe we ever see things quite clearly when we’ve been hurt. And I’m always afraid that taking this kind of revenge just tangles things up and makes them worse.

But that’s just me. What do you think about vindictiveness in fiction?

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Haven’t You Heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog?

Haven’t you heard of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog? It is the world’s biggest bestseller, or it should be, if this old saying from the publishing industry was true. Apparently book about Lincoln, books about doctors, and books about dogs all sell extremely well (at least before the internet came along, and fell in love with cats instead…) So clearly a book about all three of those things should be amazing.

Everyone knows this is a kind of silly way to look at manufacturing a bestseller. I agree, and so does the Amrah Publishing House – their latest post, Manufacturing a Bestseller, pokes several holes in this theory. Clearly I, along with several thousand other authors, would’ve written a highschool vampire love story if we’d known beforehand what a big hit Twilight was going to be. But that’s the way of these things, they’re somewhat unpredictable.

All the same, I know many of you reading this blog did enjoy Why Polly? when I posted it chapter-by-chapter here. Well, I’ve been busy editing and polishing it some more, another part will be available on Kindle on Friday. It doesn’t contain a doctor, a dog, or anything about Lincoln, but I think it’s a pretty entertaining story all the same.

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The Crime of Re-Using Plots – Is It A Crime?

Oh no, a romantic comedy! (Sabrina trailer – {PD})

Oh no, it’s another mad dash to the airport, where the girl swears she will leave the country forever and the guy insists he’s in love with her, you sigh to yourself. Everyone knows romantic comedies all have the same plot. Why do they even bother making more of them?

Well, how many plots do you think there are in the world, anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I get as annoyed by a formulaic “plot twist” as anyone else. I never want to see another break-up where the girl found out the guy was really a newspaper reporter and writing about her the whole time, ever again. I’ll be perfectly content if think-he’s-cheating-but-actually-it’s-all-a-wacky-misunderstanding scenes are banned from movies and books altogether. But that doesn’t mean expecting every element of the plot to be completely original every single time is at all realistic.

Like I said in previous posts, ancient writers all let each other play in their sandboxes. There was nothing surprising that the bard who wandered into your village told the exact same story as the bard who was there three months before. Another story about the Fall of Troy? Hey, why not, it’s not like anyone owns it. And so people only got famous if they did something really, really interesting with the well-worn story.

Romeo and Juliet was originally The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, and end with the nurse being hung and the apothecary banished. Shakespeare was merciful to the nurse and the apothecary, and a classic was born. The Metamorphoses was just Ovid retelling every single Greek myth he could think of, and making sure everyone changed into an animal at some point in the story, but everyone agreed he told the stories better than anyone else. And shoot, everyone knows Star Wars is based on The Hero’s Journey. Just because we’d told stories about heroes before, didn’t stop Star Wars from becoming insanely popular.

The key is – it’s got to be done better. We don’t live in a time where plagiarism is allowed, so an original take on the plot of the latest best-seller won’t get you anywhere, but no one’s copyright The Hero’s Journey. Or the romantic comedy formula. Use them to your heart’s content, but do it better.

Because that’s the real source of frustration with the formulaic plots, isn’t it? It feels like the writers or whoever thought the audience must be feeling the emotions they want them to feel because they hit all the right plot points. Who cares if the characters are cardboard and have no motivation – they’re racing for their love in taxicabs through New York, so you have to cheer for them. On the other hand, if the writers succeed is presenting a hackneyed plot in a fresh and interesting way, you almost forget you’ve heard some of the plot points a thousand times before. For example, in Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn, Audrey is chased by two brothers who are in love with her. Not the most original set-up in the world, but I still love the movie because Audrey makes me care which guy she ends up with. Or you can take the millions of re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice that exist, and I will watch as many of them as I can get my hands on, because the dynamic at the center of the book is so intriguing I want to see what other creators do with it.

Re-telling the story is not the problem. Re-telling it well is.

Cinderella is another story that’s been re-told a hundred thousand times. Can it handle one more? Call me deluded, but I thought so and wrote Prince Charming because of it. And since it’s free today and tomorrow, you can go here and decide if I succeeded.

What do you think, is re-using plots a crime against writing and the source of all formulaic books and movies? Or can writers dispense with being completely original once in a while to play around with well-worn tropes?

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Interview with the Author of ‘Prince Charming’

Curious about my latest ebook, Prince Charming? Head over to the Amrah Publishing House website to see my interview and find out what it’s all about. Stay tuned to the website for updates on promotions and giveaways too!

Or just read the description here (though seriously, the interview’s pretty neat too):

The prince is an irresponsible flirt who won’t settle down. The king needs an heir who will grow up and take care of the kingdom. What’s the solution? A royal ball, of course.
Despite Princess Anastasia’s doubts, the prince does meet a girl who’s different from all the others. But what’s this? A wicked stepmother, and several stepsisters? If there’s a girl who can ever learn to put up with the prince’s self-centeredness, her past may ruin this romance—and the ball!—before anyone gets a fairytale ending.

Available at Amazon

Amazon

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Reactions to an Engagement – ‘Mansfield Park’ fanfiction

No, ‘Jane Austen fanfiction’ is not my new replacement for Why Polly?, but it is for this week. I wrote this quite a while ago, but I held off on posting it so it wouldn’t interrupt Why Polly?. This is a short fanfiction of Mansfield Park, from Mary Crawford’s point-of-view (remember – the girl who Edmund was in love with but was so wrong for him?) Mansfield Park is one of the lesser-read novels of Jane Austen, so it’s not a huge surprise if you haven’t read it, though I recommend all of Austen’s novels. If you’ve read it, I also spewed out my thoughts on the book previously, in Rant About Mansfield Park.

Reactions to an Engagement

It is a terrible plague to mean to be rich, yet to have fallen for a man who is not.

Why couldn’t Edmund have been rich? Why couldn’t he have at least been the eldest? Or possessed some yearning to increase his income, or to go into some profession that was guaranteed to raise his prominence and expand his style of living?

I looked out the window, down at the rainy streets of London below. A dull day. Nobody about, nothing going on. There was nothing to do but sit here with my own thoughts, and some of my thoughts were rather too painful.

No, better yet, I ought not to have fallen in love with Edmund in the first place. He was so unlike the usual sort of man that attracted me! So invulnerable to all my teasing, so steady and calm, so contented with the country and the lack of stylish amusements it afforded. Insensitive to my teasing he might’ve been, but he had not been insensitive to my charm. Indeed – the months I had spent at the Parsonage had been some of the happiest of my life. To see his gaze soften with admiration as I played that favourite air of his on my harp… But while I had enjoyed his company, I would’ve been better off not to have fallen in love with him. Why had I?

I truly hadn’t intended for such a thing to happen. Usually I select my conquests with care, and judge whether I will succumb to their charms after much contemplation. Edmund was extraordinary to work his way into my affections before I had half-realized it.

Yet for several briefs moments this past year, I had thought maybe I was more tired of the amusements of the city than I realized. That perhaps wealth and consequence, though I had never had either, were not as engrossingly important as I had always imagined. For several moments I had thought so – thought perhaps I could adjust to Edmund’s quiet country-parson’s way of life. Until I stepped back into the bustle of London, and I knew I could never give such amusements up.

There is nothing more terrible than to love and yet know you yourself are the reason the love must be given up.

Not that I had had such a choice. Edmund had turned away from me with a hard heart and hardened eyes, and nothing I could do could make him change his mind. Perhaps it was best to know that now – to know if I had married him I could never have convinced him to spend some months in London, or drive a more stylish carriage, or to seek more fashionable acquaintances. Still, it stung me to my very soul that he had made the decision to break off the potential of anything between us, not I. I might not care so very much if I had felt I had taken control in the deciding.

Oh, I am a failure even at attempting to fool myself. There is no way I could have convinced myself to give such a man as Edmund up, no matter how miserable I should be.

So could I convince myself things were better this way?

Last that I had heard, Edmund was courting his cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny Price! If nothing else had illustrated the impassable gulf that existed between him and me, this did – the fact that he could be consoled after giving me up by a girl such as Fanny. That insipid, shy, retiring shadow of a girl, whose acquaintance I had persistently pursued for so long because I knew how important she was to Edmund! Long had I pursued the acquaintance, without feeling I knew the girl a whit better than before the acquaintance had begun. Such a quiet girl! Yet one who might speak her opinion on moral matters quite decidedly if pressed, and stick to it to a surprisingly degree – a degree no one would have predicted, from her otherwise obliging temperament. Fanny Price’s fastidiousness had ruined everything for my brother – and perhaps now she would ruin everything for me.

What? Was I still clinging to a shred of hope? It did not matter if Edmund married or did not marry Fanny Price. He’d made it clear he would never come back to me.

It was time for me to fling myself into society again, to distract myself with admirers, to appear light-hearted and charming to all who laid eyes on me. And I had been doing so until this day, and until this moment of dullness and silence I had convinced myself I had forgotten everything that had passed in Mansfield Park. But I knew now that none of the unattached society men would hold a candle to Edmund’s steadiness, his earnest ability to convey to a lady how very much he felt for her by a mere glance of his eyes. There was something in making a man such as him admire you! Fanny Price should know how much she had gained!

Yes, she likely did. I could not accuse her of presumption, but she must’ve at least been in love with Edmund for some time.

I was a fool, but as long as he was single, I did have hope.

At that very moment, my brother, Henry, entered the room.

“It is over, Mary,” he said.

Not his flirtations, that was for certain. He had thrown himself into his usual pattern of behaviour with a vengeance, and without seeming much more contented as a result of it. A certain class of respectable women avoided him, of course, but there were enough willing to associate with him to distract him. Except it looked as if he was as difficult to distract as I was.

He handed me a society paper. “Edmund Bertram has announced his engagement to Fanny Price.”

I lifted my eyes to his face. “She has got him at last, then.”

It was only the anguished look on my brother’s face that convinced me it was true.

“I still love her, Mary,” he said. His hand found the arm of the chair behind him, and he sunk himself down into it. “I didn’t think it was possible – I still love her.”

I had never thought it possible either, that my brother could ever lose at the game he played so well. That there’d every be a soul among all the ladies he juggled that would make him regret he could not convince himself to drop the others. Lost? Oh yes, my brother had lost. He is not the sort to love often, perhaps never more than once. And he knows reforming, even were he able to attempt it, would do nothing to win the heart of Fanny Price, nor raise his character in her eyes.

Oh why, oh why had the Crawfords ever gone in among the Bertrams and the Prices? They exposed the folly we could not stop clinging to. And neither of us were the better for having met them.

My heart twisted inside my chest. Edmund was to be married. Henry and I had both played and lost. Life made it clear we could not have everything we wanted, and we’d learned our priorities well.

If only such priorities did not look so dreary and monotonous on their own.

 

 

If you enjoyed Reactions to an Engagment, I also previously wrote a short piece on Emma – called Not Emma.

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Choosing Sides: Chapter 14B (Why Polly?)

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… where she 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 14B: Choosing Sides

I had been slightly put out at the Rajah for what he’d done to Casper, but now I’d met him I could see he thought he had no choice. Being a ruler always seems to get you stuck in pickles like that. It was wrong to stick Casper in Chaldea forever, and I’d tell him so if I got a chance, but I’d heard a million stories at court about how Chaldea’s fortunes had improved since they had an enchanter in the land again. And I felt a little sorry for the Rajah too, all those blasted women around him, never letting him escape, I wondered if he ever got any privacy.

Anyway, Casper didn’t seem to hate the Rajah personally, they were on quite good terms, but the Enchanter only chafed at the bounds that had been put on him. I wondered if there was a way they could resolve this mess.

But all in all I didn’t like court much, and I told Casper so. He only laughed.

“You just don’t like it because you can’t control it,” he said. “Like you run the Peak, and like you probably ran everyone’s lives in Angaria.”

“I was independent,” I replied. “I helped Gretchen support me.”

“I can imagine!” he said. I shot him a dirty look.

Maria continued to help and coach me. She got so many dresses for me their array startled me. Altogether, including the Chaldean robes Casper had first got me and the dresses I had made for myself, it was almost three times the number of dresses I’d ever owned in my life before this. They were wonderfully beautiful, but somehow they always made me fell like a doll dressed up for show.

I was wearing the lemon yellow one with pearls when Carmen blew her top again. Not at Mandarine this time, but in hysterical panic. It turned out the heirloom ring she’d been wearing, passed down through her family for generations, had been lost, and she’d just noticed. The ladies in her group all gathered around her and tried to sooth her frantic sobbing, while Mandarine and her friends gathered across from them and looked disdainful.

“Probably not as priceless as she’s making it out to be,” Janeira said, “But still, not a good thing to lose.”

The Rajah leaned back in his throne and positively rolled his eyes (I’d have sworn he did if I hadn’t known he was a ruler), while all the earls, lords, officers, and men in the Palace made valiant, manful hunts around the throne room for it. Most looked out of their wits at a lady in distress, and did their frantic best to find it. But it did not turn up. The ladies around Carmen, meanwhile, managed to calm her hysterical screams to soft, hiccoughing sniffles. If possible she looked even worse than when she’d been fighting with Mandarine.

She went to get cleaned up, but still looked positively miserable during our daily promenade. The men all shook their heads and muttered ‘poor little thing’. I’d thought her excitability would put them off, but they seemed to like a lady in distress.

“She’s always been excitable,” Janeira told me. “All her family is.”

We went in to lunch, a first course of cold, cucumber soup, followed by waldorfs, jellied salads, rolls with meat and gravy in them, and other dishes I did not see. Carmen sat across from me, with her two best friends, Clio and Rianne, sympathetically patting her arms while Mandarine glared and sniffed haughtily from down the table. I thought rather that Mandarine was jealous of all the attention Carmen was getting.

After lunch I went out to the front lawn. Tensions in the court were too stressful for me, and I had to get away, if only for a moment. The lawn was empty, and I wandered about restlessly. Over the lawn the Rajah’s peacocks stepped gracefully around me, and I fed them a few crumbs from lunch.

Then suddenly as I was bent down I saw a glint near a bush. Coming nearer to investigate I saw it was round and golden, with a brilliant green emerald set in it. If that wasn’t Carmen’s lamented lost heirloom ring, I didn’t know what was. She must have dropped it when she’d entered the Palace this morning.

As I bent to pick it up there was a voice behind me. I turned and saw Mandarine standing there, flanked on either side by Aurelia and Daina. She crossed her arms.

“You’ve found Carmen’s ring, haven’t you?” she said. “Give it to me.”

“So you can torment her with the fact you have it?” I asked. “Not on your life. I’ve had enough crying for one day. Besides, I don’t even know it’s hers.”

“I do,” she replied. “I’d recognize it anywhere. Give it to me.”

“Forget it,” I told her. “I already told you I wouldn’t.”

Just then another group of ladies rounded the corner. Carmen was among them. They stopped short when they saw us.

“Have it then,” Mandarine told me. She spat at my yellow slippered feet, then whirled away with Aurelia and Daina. Carmen looked at me.

“I found your ring,” I told Carmen. I tossed it to her, then set off down the gravelled paths, in the opposite direction Mandarine had gone.

Later Carmen came up to me, wanting to thank me, to my surprise. I told her it was only an accident I’d found it.

“Yes, but you could have given it to Mandarine,” she replied. “Are you on my side, or hers?”

Her slanted green eyes looked at me, being somehow enhanced by the French green dress she was wearing. She was offering me a place in her group. Now was the time for me to choose sides, and I sighed.

“I’d rather not be involved,” I said. “But at the moment I am rather disinclined to follow Mandarine.”

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Court Rivalry: Chapter 14A (Why Polly?)

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 taken far, far away from her home… where she 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 14A: Court Rivalry

Maria came over the next morning, with three boxes of new dresses. I slept hard that night after my day at court, and I woke up reluctantly when she knocked on my door. “Come in,” I groaned.

“Good morning,” she told me, sweeping into the room. She dumped three boxes on the floor beside me. “Get up and decide which dress you’re going to wear.”

She had brought three dresses, the first a dark, golden apricot with a V-neck and a golden circlet of ivy for the waist. The second was raspberry edged in gold, with embroidered roses growing up from the skirt to the neckline. But the third one was the one I chose to wear: an azure blue, without seams and without decorations, with a square neck and trailing sleeves. Maria helped me lace up my girdle and pull the dress over that again, and my stomach protested at being constricted for the third day in a row. Around my neck and arms I wore jewellery like woven silver.

“Are you going to court today?” I asked her. She shook her head.

“I do not feel so much like it lately,” she said. “You get tired of it after awhile. So I’m taking the time to re-order my estate again.”

“But you will come to help me every morning?” I looked at her. “Please? I need you for moral support, and I don’t think I’ll ever manage to do this by myself.”

“I’ll come as much as I can,” she promised, combing out my hair. “How did it go yesterday?”

So I told her all about my day at court, and my many mistakes, and she laughed.

“You did very well for your first day,” she said. “I know many who would not think someone not born to nobility could perform half so well. You did not even know what a court was like before.”

She left just before breakfast again, avoiding Casper and leaving me to swallow as much food as I could manage and climb into the carriage to set off. Casper came with me again, he had business with the Rajah.

“So long as the jadess doesn’t get you,” I told him with a laugh. He pulled a face.

“I try not to put myself in a place where she can get at me,” he said.

“You know,” I said, “I feel sorry for Paulina. I mean, being left behind.”

“I gave her a protection charm too, you know,” he told me. “So she can get out of the house now.”

“I know,” I sighed. “But she’d be so much better at this court stuff than me.”

The carriage reached the Palace. Casper led me through the Palace again, since I didn’t know the way, this time to a different throne room, with different heralds at the door. But one we went in I found all the same nobles as the day before.

“Hello,” Janeira said to me, once I had given my greetings to the Rajah.

“Hello,” I replied. The other ladies all looked at me, but didn’t say anything. I nodded to them.

It was much like last time. I sat down on a chair, spreading my azure skirts out around me, and listened to them talk. Janeira explained some of the names they were talking about, reminding me of people I’d met yesterday. But still I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation, and I kept getting everyone mixed up.

“That Lord Hamptys thinks too much of himself, doesn’t he?” Carmen was saying, fanning herself slowly with a large, gilded fan. It was hot and stuffy in the throne room. Mandarine looked sharply at her.

“Lord Hamptys is my father’s brother,” she told Carmen coldly. The others were all watching them with avid interest.

“So?” Carmen asked, raising one eyebrow archly.

“I would appreciate it if you did not insult my kinsmen,” Mandarine replied.

“Not again,” Janeira sighed from beside me.

“Why not?” Carmen said. “They’re all pompous asses, and you’re one of them.”

“Nice words coming from someone who can’t even get the Rajah to look at her,” Mandarine sneered, her face white with fury.

“Oh yeah?” Carmen hissed back. “Does he look at you any more often?”

“He does,” Mandarine asserted.

“Does not!”

“Does too!”

“You shrieking fool!”

Thwack! Mandarine’s hand shot out and slapped Carmen across the face. Carmen rose up, raised her arms, and hit back. Then Mandarine grabbed a hunk of shiny black hair, and they both fell to the ground in a screaming, kicking, biting, yowling pile. I stared, aghast.

“Cat fight,” an earl standing two feet away remarked.

The other ladies weren’t helping much. The ones on Mandarine’s side were facing the ones on Carmen’s side, circling the fight, hissing at each other and encouraging Carmen and Mandarine on. There was quite a lot of hair-pulling and elbowing in the crowd, and multitudes of dirty looks, though Carmen and Mandarine were the only ones who were actually fighting.

I stood up nervously. “Um, why don’t we take this outside?”

They all stared at me, and even Carmen paused, though Mandarine did not.

“Whatever for?” Daina asked.

“We’re in a palace!” I protested. Maria must’ve been crazy – meek-tempered women at court, my foot! Janeira came up beside me.

“The Rajah’s learned not to keep valuables in his throne room by now,” she told me. “Don’t worry.”

I stared at them all. Didn’t they see? How uncourtly and unladylike!

Chaldean women have tempers like cats,” I remembered hearing Casper say. “And once they start there’s no stopping them.” I think he’d been talking about the women who’d been furious at him for jilting them, but I thought I understood what he meant now.

The brawl was still raging. A couple of palace guards and some earls were trying to drag them apart, but they seemed afraid to get too close. I was about to try and extricate them myself, when a piercing whistle tore through the hall.

“Stop it this instant,” the Rajah commanded. He stood, regal, his noble eyes flashing, his strong profile hard, his muscle tense under his robes as his darkish hair fell down around his forehead. He made a motion with his scepter, and amazingly both women stopped. I made a mental note to correct Casper. Chaldean women could be stopped if they lost their tempers, but only by a young, handsome, unmarried Rajah’s command.

Both Carmen and Mandarine looked decidedly worse for the wear. Their hair was yanked out of its combs and tangled around their shoulders, their make-up was smeared, their expensive dresses were torn and rumpled. Jewels that had fallen off were strewn around the floor.

“I have tolerated your childishness long enough,” the Rajah told them sternly. “I will no longer. I will not have this unseemly behaviour in my court. From now on you will get along.”

I thought he was asking rather much, but both Carmen and Mandarine looked penitent, at least for now. The Rajah gave them one last look, before sitting down and continuing his conversation with the officer beside him. He already looked as if he’d forgotten the incident.

“Well, they certainly both got the Rajah to look at them that time,” I muttered.

“Sharp tongues get you in a world of trouble at court,” Janeira said, rolling her eyes. “Especially theirs.”

Without looking at each other Carmen and Mandarine picked up their things off the floor and stormed away, presumably to fix themselves up. The other ladies separated into two groups, Carmen’s group and Mandarine’s group, and began whispering excitedly.

“Does this happen a lot?” I asked Janeira.

“About every couple of weeks,” she replied.

Carmen and Mandarine came back looking as good as new, and my day after that was pretty much the same as yesterday. I though I was finally getting the hang of manners at lunch. At least I didn’t make everybody stare at me so often.

Court days fell mostly in a pattern. First was the morning, when everyone arrived one by one, to be announced by the heralds, and to give their greeting to the Rajah. Then, while the Rajah took care of business, the court ladies were left to gossip and amuse themselves together. After that it was our ‘daily promenade’ around the garden. Officially it was to get some fresh air, but both we and the Rajah knew better. The earls seemed to know better too, and often they would show up and watch us during this time, talking among themselves. Probably discussing our beauty and rating us, I thought. Most of the earls seemed to be of marriageable age, perhaps that explained it.

Then there was the mid-day meal. The Rajah’s lunch was the finest in the land, slices of cold venison, fresh salad, platters of fruit, bowls of jelly, pitchers of cream, and frozen ices to go between each course. Too bad the laces on my girdle were too tight for me to enjoy much of it.

And in the afternoon the court enjoyed leisure time. We did all sorts of courtly things: boating on the river, displaying ourselves to the common folk, viewing plantations, hawking (for those with hawks to show off), competitions in which the lords and earls would show off their skills for us. The earls and the court ladies all seemed to know each other, and be friends, and sometimes I wondered why the ladies didn’t just quit chasing the Rajah and marry one of them. They were extremely kind and courtly; I met some of them because they who showed open interest in the only woman with blond hair there, though obviously not because of my beauty. I got to know some of the ladies too, and they could’ve been worse, but it seemed it was hard to really fit in here if you weren’t on anybody’s side. So I stood around by Janeira.

The Rajah came too, in the afternoon, if he wasn’t wrapped out in something else. When he did, the ladies would all jostle in a crowd around him, enough to make me green and wish they’d give the poor man a break. If he disappeared even for a moment, though, I worried, wondering if the jadess was getting her hands into him, but at least I had all the ladies under my eye. Though Casper would probably skin me alive if he knew.

“I thought you said Chaldeans like their women meek,” I said to Maria, first moment I could – one morning when she brought over new dresses. “The two leading women at court are spitting cats.”

“I said you would have to be meek and mild, to get close to the Rajah,” Maria retorted. “Carmen and Mandarine are leaders at court, very true – but are either married to the Rajah yet? Is that the sort of woman he prefers, or merely the sort that wearies him? You decide.”

Slowly I hooked a pair of jewelled earrings into my ears. “He seems – pretty sick of court in general. Don’t tell me, he’ll offend some important family if he doesn’t show up.”

“You are quick.” Maria grinned.

Casper’s plan was genius, then – there was no way the Rajah would meet a strange woman outside of court, and if he was always at court it would be difficult for the jadess to make a move. Even more difficult if I was there to keep an eye on things.

“You are a foreigner,” Maria went on. “You have to be very careful about your place in court. And I know the Rajah prefers the sort of woman – that I can never be.”

She glanced away quickly. It was the first sign of emotion (other than anger) that I had ever seen in her.

I wouldn’t go to court anymore, either, if I had to watch all those women fight over the man I loved.

“Look here, the Rajah’s got to open his eyes someday,” I told her.

She let out a long sigh. “I do keep telling myself that.”

 

Go to Chapter 14B

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Fish Out Of Water: Chapter 13C (Why Polly?)

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 taken far, far away from her home… where she 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 13C: Fish Out Of Water

“Yes?” the Lady Janeira said. “I’m new here too. My family lives on the eastern borders of the land, and today I’m allowed to go to court this time for the first time ever. What do you think of the Rajah?”

“Fascinating,” I replied.

“Yes, we all think so,” she answered. She leant a little closer. “I’d watch out for those two, you know,” she indicated Lady Carmen and Lady Mandarine. “They’re the rival groups here, and you’ve got the pick sides. I haven’t yet,” she giggled, “because I’m new. But they’re both chosen me. What I mean is, they both want the best on their sides, because they’d rather have the Rajah pay attention to a member of their group, if not themselves, rather than the other side. Strange, isn’t it?”

I could honestly say yes. Everything so far had been strange.

There were lots of people to see the Rajah, and the Rajah dealt with them all. We sat by the edge and gossiped. At least, everyone else did. I didn’t know half the people they were talking about, and they didn’t tell me. They didn’t seem to know what to make of me, a pale Angarian sitting in the midst of them.

“So you’re Casper’s cousin,” Lady Aurelia said to me finally. I nodded.

“That Enchanter!” Lady Daina spat. They all exchanged looks at this, then turned back to me.

“You do know what he’s like, don’t you?” Lady Aurelia asked.

“Yes,” I replied coolly. “Fortunately, I happen to be his cousin.”

“By which you mean?” Lady Mandarine inquired sharply, staring at me in a way that got my back up.

“He doesn’t jilt me,” I told her sweetly. Beside me Janeira gave a quick gasp. I sighed to myself and cursed my mouth. If I wasn’t careful I’d get myself in trouble.

Lady Mandarine’s gaze had hardened, and she got up and swept to the other side of the throne room, but Lady Carmen was studying me appreciatively. I flushed under all of their gazes. At the edge of the group I noticed Lady Cassandra and Lady Clio had joined us. Lady Cassandra was looking at me especially hatefully.

“Well, well, the Enchanter’s cousin,” she said.

I did not trust myself to reply, and remained silent. They continued staring at me for a while longer, then began talking again. I let out the breath I had been holding.

“I told you to be careful,” Janeira told me. I shrugged and sighed. Looking up I saw the Rajah get up from his ornate chair and stride out of the room. For a moment I panicked. Casper had said never to let my eyes off him! Then I quickly made up my mind and hurried out after him.

When I got out into the hall it was empty. Looking back I realised I was now in a different part of the Palace, and I hoped I wouldn’t get lost. Picking up my skirts I hurried down the passageway. Where had the Rajah disappeared to?

I wandered around for a few minutes, getting worried. I knew I wasn’t cut out for this, I thought. But I could get out of it now.

Turning a corner I almost ran into the person I was looking for, the Rajah with a couple dusty volumes in his hands, which fell the to the floor as I knocked them.

“Oh – I’m sorry,” I gasped, almost sheepishly. What would he think of me, wandering around the Palace like some aimless fool?

“Lady Penelope,” he said, “What are you doing here?’

“Looking around, your majesty,” I replied. “I mean, er, Most Exalted Rajah…” I was making even more of a fool of myself. I bit my tongue and looked at him. Politely he offered me his arm and said courteously,

“Shall I show you back to the court, Lady Penelope?”

“Sure – I mean, yes,” I replied, flustered. But I did not take his arm, so after a while he dropped it.

Forgive me, Casper, if he kicks me out of the Palace, I thought. Luckily the Rajah did not seem about to do so. I followed him back down the halls to the throne room.

The ladies of the court all turned to look at me again as I re-entered. I was already red, but I’m sure I flushed three shades darker.

I’m never doing that again, I vowed silently to myself. Next time I would wait a while before I started worrying.

Just before noon the court ladies went to ‘stroll around the garden’, though their real intention seemed to be to promenade where all could admire them, and mostly for the Rajah. I went too, not really knowing what else to do, feeling like an idiot and making casual small talk with Janeira. The Rajah stood on his balcony and smiled with an arrogant amusement that was similar to Casper’s, only somehow more dark and regal. He knew this was put on for his benefit.

I looked around the garden at all the strolling silks and laces, and realised why Maria had said my other robes were completely unsuitable. They were simple compared to these, decorated only with embroidery. I decided they must be the kind of robe the common people wore, and that was why Casper could buy them in the market, but the dresses here at court were made professionally be seamstresses especially for the woman who bought them. I wondered how much all these dresses here put together would cost, and how Casper could afford to get such dresses for me.

I realised then Casper must be quite wealthy. Funny I had never thought of it before. But of course the only Enchanter in the land would be rich.

“You said both Mandarine and Carmen asked you to join their sides?” I said to Janeira as we strolled.

“Asked me if I was for them, or against them, more like,” she replied. “But yes, they did.”

“Neither has asked me,” I said, “And I do not wonder why.”

“Come, it is only your first day here,” Janeira told me. “They are not sure about you yet. And they do not really know if you’re competing for the attentions of the Rajah, or if you’re only visiting the court. Are you competing?”

I sighed as I walked. “Yes.”

The court ate the noon meal on the terrace, on a long white table set with gleaming silver and served by servants in blue. Besides the ladies of the court there were also many lords, earls, and officers, some with their wives. The meal was lavish, with course after course, but following the example of the ladies I ate little. I did not think I could fit much down anyway, with my girdle. The only trouble I had was remembering the procedures Maria had taught me: do not start your course before the Rajah does, follow the Rajah in his choice of utensils for each course, and do not talk loudly, lest you interrupt another conversation. More than once I found the whole table staring at me with shock and horror. It did not help when Mandarine hissed loudly in explanation to the earl beside her, “She’s Angarian.”

After lunch most of the court reclined for awhile, inside, in a dusky, brocade draped room infused with incense, because outside the heat of the day had reached its peak. Even the Rajah relaxed, discussing trivial matters with the other earls. Then, when most of the stodgier lords and officer had left, the younger set got up and gathered around.

“Afternoons are ours,” Janeira explained to me. “The Rajah usually has no business to attend to.”

A couple of earls were standing by Carmen and Cassandra, caped in maroon with sheathed swords at their waists. They turned when they saw me come up.

“Ah, it’s the Angarian,” one of them laughed. “I’ve heard about you. You’re the Enchanter’s cousin, right?”

I nodded.

“Funny,” he said. “You’re so much more charming than he is.”

They all laughed as I reddened. Carmen glanced at me edgily and moved as if to politely cut me out, and Cassandra positively glared.

“Pay the earls no mind,” Janeira whispered. “They’re always like that.”

“My dear Earl Rojah,” Carmen said to them, quite obviously cutting me out now. “I hope you have given thought to this afternoon?”

“I thought we might boat down the river,” he replied. “The weather being as it is.”

“But we always boat!” Carmen said. “And my dress…”

“Won’t be shown in its fullest glory on a boat,” the Earl finished. “Which would be a terrible thing, since it was made to pull in the Rajah.”

Carmen glared at him, but not in a way that said she was seriously angry. “Fine. We will boat.”

The earls began moving away, to tell the Rajah of their plans, and as they passed me they smiled.

“You are coming too, aren’t you?” one asked.

“I suppose so, if you wish me to,” I replied sweetly. Maria would have been proud.

And so for the rest of the afternoon we took the Rajah’s private yacht and sailed slowly down the river that ran through Araba. Here, more than anywhere else, I could see how out of place I was, because especially during this time, when the court was relaxing and having fun, I could see how well the ladies and the earls and the officers all knew each other. I spent the trip sitting near the bow and letting the cool river breezes blow over my face. Once, for politeness’ sake, the Rajah came to check on me, and for a while Janeira talked to me, but other than that I was alone. In a way I was glad, because I needed time to sort out my thoughts.

At the dock at the end of the voyage carriages were waiting for us, which took us up and carried us all the way back to the Palace. They day was almost over. Clio, Daina and Aurelia and the others in my carriage were discussing the dinner that night, but I had not been invited, and besides, Casper had said he would send a carriage to pick me up at the end of the afternoon. I realised suddenly I would be glad to see the Peak again.

“I hope you enjoyed your day here, Lady Penelope,” the Rajah said to me as I left, “And you are welcome back tomorrow.”

I curtsied smoothly, gave a little smile, and ascended into the carriage that would take me home. It started to rattle down the Palace hill to the city again. I leaned my head back tiredly against the seat and thought about my day, and the people of the court I’d met.

Janeira, who seemed to understand a bit what it was like to be new and out of place at the Rajah’s court; Carmen and Mandarine, the two rivals who completed for the Rajah’s attention and hated each other, and now probably hated me too; Cassandra, whose grudge against the Enchanter who’d jilted her seemed to extend to all of his family, including his ‘cousin’; Daina, Clio, Aurelia and the others who seemed to regard me with a sort of superior disdain. And then there was, of course, the Rajah himself. The young, dark, and handsome ruler of Chaldea.

“How was it?” Paulina asked me when I reached the Peak. She was making dinner since I was not there to do it, and Radagast was curled by her feet.

“Tiring and confusing,” I sighed. “I’m going up to change.”

Quickly I undressed and put on my light blue dress. It felt so good to get out of that girdle, and to wash all that make-up off my face. When I looked in the mirror and saw my familiar, natural face staring back I felt relieved.

“So, how’d you do?” Casper asked when I came down. I looked at him.

“Put it this way,” I told him, “I don’t know how you ever talked me into doing this.”

 

Go to Chapter 14A

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Thoughts of Mr. Knightley, A Missing Chapter From Emma

And now for something completely different…

 

 

Author’s Note: I do not pretend I can write like Jane Austen. Aside from the fact she’s a genius at writing courtship novels, I could never write in that exact style of English, because the language’s changed since then. All the same, I’ve been obsessed with Emma lately, so I had to try something from Mr. Knightley’s point of view. This bit is inspired by the book, and not the movie, so hopefully you won’t be confused about any of the details I’ve included.

Of course, if you wish to know what happens next, read Chapter 49 of Emma.

 

Mr. Knightley’s Thoughts Upon Travelling to London

 “I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good…”

He had said that. He, himself, had said that. So why should it be that he was very much in love, and certainly in doubt of a return?
The hooves of his horse thundered over the ground below him. He soon would be far from Hartfield, and all residents therein. Distance at this point in time was desirous and necessary, but he highly doubted any length of distance could fully settle the tumult of his soul…

He had almost kissed her hand – been the merest breath away from doing so, but something had held him back. Something in the way a blush had risen to her cheeks. A blush he’d seen a hundred thousand time before, from her precocious infancy to her full bloom of womanhood, but the last blush before this had been accompanied by a smile and a laugh, and been directed at Frank Churchill.

Frank Churchill – that dog!

He straightened in the saddle. All the bitterness of spirits could not be enough to excuse an uncharacteristic slump to his shoulders. He would learn to be indifferent. He would learn indifference enough that Emma would be free to smile at whomever she wished, without it so thoroughly affecting him.

London was only fifteen miles hence. He should be in there, in Brunswick Square, by evening. Then a pleasant evening with John and Isabella and the children should drive all thoughts of Hartfield from his mind. One could never fully concentrate on anything with those boys of John’s rampaging about.

His upper lip twisted. But now the road was empty. There were no such distractions around.

Emma! – Emma! – Emma, who was so dear to him, so heedless of her own faults, and yet so eager to do better. Always resolving to improve and always forgetting her resolve mere days after making it. How often it had used to amuse him! How far less amusing it was to watch those faults be worsened under the hand of a careless, foppish, flirtatious young man…

Still, at his encouragement, his, she had gone to see Miss Bates today. She put some value in his reproofs, that relieved his mind. Sound counsel had always held weight with her. This proved it still did, though not that she preferred sound counsel from any particular source. Least of all that of an old family friend.

That they could disagree and yet never cease to be friends – that was the pinnacle of it all. Far too many women of his acquaintance could not bear for their opinions to be crossed. Yet he could be irritated with Emma and she bore it with spirit. And he was not always right, he knew he was not always right. He could not support always being agreed with by a woman, or a woman who always needed to be agreed with by him.

Which was why of late he had begun to consider… Donwell Abbey felt very empty and cold despite the number of fire lit… he wished for light, lilting chatter to cheer his long evenings and drown out the thick silence…

But not such chatter as he had endured at Box Hill! Miss Woodhouse demands from each of you one very clever thing, indeed. His ears could not bear the words.

His gaze fell on the very fine stand of trees in the distance. It was far easier to think of a stand of trees than that disastrous party. There must be some good timber yonder in that stand. He wondered who could possibly own the lands hereabout.

Yes, indifference.

For thirty-seven years he had been indifferent. Thirty-seven years he had lived in peace, content with the knowledge he possessed an income which could support him, and could make life easier for his tenants. For a long time being known in the county as a “good landlord” had been enough. He had felt useful. He had contributed to the betterment of people’s lives, including that of his dear neighbours. He had grown used to ignoring the prophecies of the women of Highbury – “I declare, he will be married by midsummer,” or “she surely will not fail to catch his eye!”

He had been content to live by himself and mix with society at his leisure. There was a good amount of silliness in Highbury society, as there was any time one mixed a great number of disparate people together, but the majority of them were worthy souls. He had never seen any reason to be a snob, or hold himself above them. The only failing of the place was the scarcity of suitable companions for Emma.

Again. He would not wish to take back the moment Emma had been laid in his arms as a boy of sixteen, but he most assuredly would have paused if he had known the doubt that darkened his mind right now. The ease in which perfect contentment with his own society in his own house would suddenly turn to disgust at the dull creature he was on his own.

The ease in which a slim figure, the closest approximation of an accomplished young lady Emma could be without ceasing to be Emma, could slip herself into the centre of his daily routine, his conversations, his thoughts.

Those arching black brows over bright eyes, so warm with regard for him…

He’d admit to anyone he was fond of her. He’d sworn he’d do his best by her, the moment he’d heard the news her mother had passed away. She deserved a friendly hand to guide her when her overeager feet led her to stumble, and a neighbourly eye to watch out for her. But this – this prompting in his hear was to do more, far more, and he could not do that now, not while Frank Churchill –

He could wish Frank Churchill at the ends of the earth – at the bottom of the sea, if it meant he would be away from Highbury. He never wished harm against another man before. But now, he hated most of all how this disappointment caused him to be untrue to himself.

He would never be glib, like Frank Churchill.

He would let plain words speak for himself someday.

He could only pray to God that someday he would be granted the chance to say them.

He did not dare to allow himself to hope again, not until a certain letter of Mr. Weston reached him and he had read the postscript. Then he burst out –

“Jane, Jane, you will be a miserable creature!”

But, if he could do anything about it – not Emma.

***

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