Thursday, 17 January 2013

[Northspell 2] the princess dresses herself

For the next hour, the princess sat curled up on the seat in the window alcove and watched. At first she would jump up every time a new person entered the room, but she soon discovered that it was not just her double and Etta that were ignoring her, but her entire retinue. None of them seemed to notice any difference in the princess either: the impostor's face and hands were washed by the Bath-Mistress, and she was dressed in the princess's clothes by the Wardrobe-Mistress.

The princess looked down at her summer nightdress. The fine cotton had twisted itself around her legs, and a sudden draught from the door made her shiver and tug the material down over her bare feet. She wished for her robe, or even her wrap, but she didn't know where they were kept. Besides, it was not done for princesses to dress themselves, and how could anyone dress her if they could not see her?

The door closed, and she looked up to an empty room. Of course, she thought, by now the Books-Mistress would be waiting in the big empty schoolroom downstairs. The princess realised that she was pleased at this. She looked out the window to the courtyard below and her face fell. The grey stone was flecked with darker patches where raindrops were spotting the ground. On such a day the princess would be kept inside, listening to the Books-Mistress reading aloud from deportment manuals.

A small smile crept onto her face as she remembered that the other princess would have to endure the endless lists of Court procedures and correct ways  to address the Hereditary Holder of the Queen's Wardrobe ('Aunt Grizel' would have been simpler, the princess thought to herself, but then, Court procedure was anything but simple).

The princess sat on the window seat for a while longer, as she slowly realised that no one was going to come back for her, or dress her, or do anything for her. She tossed her head, and stared out of the window at the raindrops rolling down the glass. Blurred by the rain, she could see tiny figures hurrying from the other side of the courtyard across the darkened stone slabs. Then, with a final gust of wind, the clouds blew away over the turrets and a weak sun blinked down on the rain-soaked city. The princess watched the raindrops as they slid down the glass, leaving watery trails behind them.

The one on the right is going to get to the bottom first, she thought. (It didn't.) Water dripped steadily off the roof and pooled on windowsills. The shallow puddles in the courtyard shrunk until at last they disappeared altogether, leaving only damp patches in the shade.

 The bells of the clock-tower opposite clanged twelve times. The princess looked towards the door. In precisely 20 minutes time, the other princess would be returning to change for the midday meal. The only people present at the midday meal would be Etta and the princess, but it was supposed to be good training for when she joined full Court life.

The princess knew how the rest of the day would go. It would be the same as all the other days. Suddenly she didn't want to see any more of her life from the outside looking in. Before, that was just the way things were, and the way they had always been done, but now...thinking of the day ahead left a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. And she STILL hadn't had breakfast and now it was time for Etta to fetch the tray for the midday meal.

Where did Etta fetch the tray from? The princess supposed it must come from somewhere in the palace. Probably quite far away as it was nearly always cool when it arrived. What if...what if she followed Etta as she went to fetch the tray? Perhaps there would be more food there, and she could take some. Perhaps...there might even be people there who could see her.

This decided on, the princess unfolded her legs from beneath her and surveyed her bare feet. She could not leave her rooms in just her nightdress, even if no one could see her. The thought of what Nurse and the Wardrobe-Mistress and the Books-Mistress would have to say on the subject did not bear thinking about. She looked around the room. In the corner by the bed there was a large wooden chest, taller than the princess - taller even than the Bath-Mistress who had to duck her head every time she entered the small bath-chamber off the princess's rooms. The princess vaguely recalled being early awake once, and seeing Etta taking the breakfast robe out of the chest to warm it at the fire.

The doors of the chest swung open easily. A bewildering row of garments hung at eye-level, with a shelf for boots and shoes below. There was a soft, warm scent like lavender and honey, mixed with a sharper scent that the princess did not recognise. She grabbed at the first pair of boots and the sharp scent grew stronger. Wrinkling her nose, she sniffed the shiny leather, leaving a tiny smudge, which she tried to rub off with her finger.

Sitting on the floor, she held one boot in both hands and tried to put it on. After several tries, she threw the stupid boot under the stupid bed, and threw the other one after it for good measure. When Etta put her boots on for her she made it look easy.

 Reaching into the chest again, her hands found the soft little slippers she wore for her dancing lessons. They slipped onto her feet easily, and she felt a sudden rush of accomplishment. Etta had always fitted them on for her before. Perhaps next time she would say, No Etta, I shall put my slippers on myself. And Etta would stare because the princess never did anything for herself, and the Dancing-Master would stare, and she would dance right out of the ballroom and she would make them all stare...

The tiny clock on the mantlepiece chimed the quarter hour. The princess dug her arms into the row of clothes and pulled at the first thing that her hands grasped. It stubbornly remained caught at the top until she gave it a sharp tug, and tumbled backwards onto the floor. Scrambling up, she held the coat out in front of her with a determined expression on her face. After all, she was a princess that had conquered shoes.

The wretched thing seemed to be all arms and trapped collars but somehow she ended up inside the coat and the coat the right way out. The sides of the coat hung limply from her shoulders, and one pocket was torn right through to the lining but the princess held her head high and performed a curtsey that would have made the Dancing-Master proud.

'The princess is ready to go out...' she mumbled in the absence of the Wardrobe-Mistress, feeling that, despite the triumph over Shoes and Coat, her appearance in the looking-glass would be somewhat less than what the Wardrobe-Mistress would like.

'Well, I did it myself, anyway.' she said to the wardrobe, sticking her chin in the air.


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