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.”