My Ranking Points
Here is the thirteenth chapter of Girl Knight, so sorry it’s late, constructive criticism welcome, if you want me to tag, just ask. I thought it would be good to give a glimpse of life at the GP. Also, if you want to be tagged for Tale of a Palace Servant, just mention it.
The Madames were a group of half a dozen women her mother had hired to keep her daughters in check and educate them on being a princess. Of course, they had doted on Claire, and constantly praised her for her “sweetness of heart” and “stunning beauty” and for having “superb poise and etiquette” and “ladylike behavior”. They despised Arielle, for in their eyes Arielle was a disobedient, unruly, rebellious, vicious, uncivilized, uncultured, arrogant, unmannered, and horrid girl that lacked the qualities that they believed was necessary for a princess. Ever since Queen Diane gave them her official permission to do whatever they thought was necessary to “get her in line”, they had been treating her especially harsh.
At 5 am in the morning, Arielle had been forcefully yanked out of bed by two maids. Then she had been scrubbed with scalding towels, had a brush jammed into her teeth, and was slathered in various lotions and potions. After that was done, they proceeded to tie her hair into an elegant knot, paint her in heavy makeup, jam her feet into tight indigo glass high heels, and force her into corsets and hoopskirts before shoving onto her a lilac silk gown with freshwater pearl trim. Then they clipped gold-and-amethyst earrings into her ears and adorned her with matching jewelry.
“Please stop scratching, Princess Arielle.” snapped Madame Fiore, who stood to the side smirking. “It is most unladylike.”
“Why do I have to wear so many skirts?” asked Arielle, as the maids straightened the stunning but uncomfortably heavy diadem that crowned her auburn tresses. “And these stupid corsets?”
“Well, Princess, the hoopskirts give your gown shape. And the corsets are there to slenderize your figure, which as a direct result of not following the comprehensive diets we recommended while gallivanting around the woods like a rogue, is awfully fat.”
Arielle rolled her eyes. “It’s called eating like a normal person.” she snapped. “You know, this thing called food that most human beings put into their mouth and swallow. Like, grains and meat and dairy too? A healthy diet isn’t all about steamed kale and cucumber juice.”
“Princess Arielle,” snapped Madame Fiore, “If you even dare to sass me again, then I will have you to be moved to the royal dungeons. Now, princess, stop scratching or tomorrow I’ll arrange for the laundry to fill your skirts with maggots. Thank goodness the queen has authorized me to do whatever must be done to convince you to follow the wonderful path Her Highness has set out for you. You know, it certainly beats marriage to a Never warlord. A prince is a far better option, princess. I think it would be in your best interests to stop resisting.Now, do you want to spend today in the torture chambers or not?”
With great difficulty Arielle unclenched her teeth and fists and forced a fake smile.
“That’s better.” said Madame Fiore with a slight smirk. “Now, I trust you won’t make the same mistake again?”
“Yes, Madame Fiore.” she sighed resignedly.
“Excellent.” sneered Madame Fiore. “So, after eating the breakfast that will be brought up in a few minutes, you will attend Etiquette with Madame Le Foux at 7 am, then Beautification with Madame Gâté, Dance with Madame Dupierre, Decorum with Madame Le Foux, Flirtation with Madame Gâté , and then you will take a break for a picnic lunch in the Glass Mountain Orchards, to get used to lunch picnics like they have in the School for Good. After lunch, you will have Needlework with Madame Dupierre, followed by History with Madame Bisset, then Diplomacy with Madame Voltaire, Elocution & Voice Modulation with Madame Bisset, and Royal Law with Madame Voltaire. Finally, from 6:00-8:00 pm, you will have Test Prep with me.”
“Test prep?” asked Arielle. “For what?”
“Oh, towards the end of the week you shall be taking the SGE entrance exam.” said Madame Fiore. “So we thought it would be best to prepare you for it. Now, after that you will change into your evening gown for dinner, which will be from eight to nine. Then we should get you ready for bed by 9:30, so that should allow you about 8 hours of sleep, which will make your skin glow and give you time for your busy days. Now, if that is it, then let’s check to see what happened to your breakfast.”
“Hold on,” said Arielle in shock, “I’m not getting any free time?”
“You’ll get breaks at the School for Good. Here, you will study for thirteen hours a day to get to SGE. If it’s relaxation you want, princess, then all you have to do is go to SGE like your mother wants you to. Now, where is that maid?”
All of a sudden there were three polite knocks on the door. “Enter.” said Madame Fiore haughtily. A girl no more than one or two years older than Arielle stumbled in, bearing an enormous breakfast tray. Arielle noticed that her cornflower blue Glass Mountain maid’s uniform had a faint purplish stain, indicating that she had spilled something. Arielle cringed inwardly at the thought of what was about to happen to her.
The young maid placed the silver tray on her ivory table, and curtsied to Arielle and Madame Fiore nervously. “Good morning, Princess Arielle, Madame Fiore.” she said, trying and failing to be chipper. It was clear she knew what was coming to her as well.
“You’re late.” said Madame Fiore coldly. “What’s your name, girl?”
“Essa Appleton.” said the maid nervously.
“I shall report you to the stewards.” snapped Madame Fiore. “Why were you late, Erin?”
“I-I slept in.” said Essa fearfully.
“Slept in?” said Madame Fiore in horror. Madame Fiore recomposed herself. “Well, we’ll see how well you sleep on a cold, hard dungeon floor, aching from the pain of a rough beating. Get out!”
Essa didn’t need to be told twice. As the polished oak double doors swung shut behind her with a dull thud, Madame Fiore whipped around to the other two maids still in the room, who were now looking terrified. “Well, don’t just stand there!” snapped Madame Fiore. “Start serving it! Do you want to move into the dungeons too?”
The maids immediately started taking the dishes off the tray and carrying them out to a glass table on Arielle’s private balcony. At exactly 6:30, the rest of the Madames entered.They stepped outside, and Arielle took the gold throne at the head of the dining table, while the Madames sat in the six chairs on the sides. Heaped on top of the glass table were crystal pitchers of sparkling fruit juices, silver teapots of flower teas, platters of jelly tarts, vanilla crepes, chocolate croissants, and miniature cakes, jugs of unicorn milk, bowls of sliced fruit, and dishes of bacon and sausages. The food was lovely, but it clearly lacked the passion of the Oceancrest cooks or the skill of Chef Silkima at Camelot Castle. Of course, even if the food was from Beauty and the Feast, it would probably still be difficult to enjoy given the snide remarks of the Madames and the fact that they were enjoying this meal in the palace that she had never wanted to return to.
After breakfast, the other five Madames exited the room to do their hair or lounge in the royal spa or whatever, leaving Arielle wit Madame Le Foux. A very uptight and strict woman, Madame Le Foux was the definition of neatness and properness. She had chestnut hair tied into an elegant bun, stern gray eyes, and wore over-ironed gowns in solid colors, every mother-of-pearl button polished to gleaming perfection. Madame Le Foux stood so incredibly straight that Arielle sometimes wondered whether her spine was afraid of her, Today she was lecturing Arielle on table manners. Her examples of good table manners always involved Claire and her examples of bad table manners always involved Arielle.
“Now, princess, the fifth item on our list on “Behaviors Unfit for a Royal Dining Hall” is best exemplified by what you did at a banquet when you were seven. You see, when you wanted to have the roast duck kebabs, you said to His Grace Lord Devon, ‘Your Grace Lord Devon, could you please pass the roast duck kebabs’ when it really should have been, ‘Your Esteemed Grace, Lord Devon, would it trouble your lordship to pass me the roast duck kebabs? After all, he was an esteemed guest, and the way you asked him that night shows an utter lack of court etiquette. Now, take note of the behavior of Princess Claire, who…”
After an hour of listening to Madame Le Foux pick apart even her tiniest etiquette mistakes while gushing about the amazingness of Claire, Arielle was almost looking forward to Beautification. She repressed a cheer when Madame Le Foux left at eight sharp, but her mood dimmed when she remembered it was Madame Gâté next.
No one ever knew how Madame Gâté looked naturally as she was always caked in makeup and dyed her hair daily. She also drank expensive herbal potions that changed her eye color, grew her hair, and did a whole host of other things to adjust her physical aspects in ways non-magical methods could not. Today, she had a ruby-red pixie cut, jade green chiffon gown with gold brocade, long white silk gloves, and a slit up the leg, eyes shadowed in sparkly silver, lips painted fuschia, glowing skin bronzed, her irises a startling electric blue. Her neck was adorned with a crystal choker and a pair of silver-and-pearl earrings glittered in her ears.
“Hello, Princess,” said Madame Gâte haughtily. “I must say, I’m quite disappointed with what you’ve been doing with your beauty profile. You know, you may not be as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Princess Claire, but at least you are not as ugl.y as that Queen Agatha. Sit up straight!”
Arielle adjusted her posture accordingly. Madame Gâté was to the servants, guards, and Arielle the cruelest Madame of them all. To all the nobles and royals and famous people, she was a sweet, gentle, charming woman.
“Well, there are so many lessons I could teach you today, Princess.” said Madame Gâté appraisingly. “For example, your dry hair or chapped lips or dull skin. Did you not think to hire a chambermaid when you escaped? Or learn to reapply your lip gloss every two minutes? I cannot believe that you are the daughter of the Queen of Glass Mountain. But since this week is all about getting ready for SGE, I suppose we’ll start with smiling.”
“There are 34 different types of smile. Some convey sadness, others, rejoice, and we will spend the rest of this class memorizing each and every one of them.”
It was useless, tiring work, and by the end of the hour, Arielle’s hand was red from the continuous smacks on the hand she earned when she got a question wrong. Arielle was almost looking forward to dance class.
Madame Dupierre was a distant relative of the twelve dancing princesses. She was particularly sore about the subject, and Arielle had learned to never mention the Twelve Dancing Princesses unless she wished to hear an angry rant about how if Madame Dupiere’s mother had been sent to SGE with her cousins, then Madame Dupierre would be living the royal life as a princess. As much as Arielle hated the late School Master like the rest of the Woods, and was delighted that Queen Agatha, King Tedros, and Dean Sophie had killed him, it got incredibly tiring to hear Madame Dupierre rant about his idiocy.
“Today we shall practice various ballroom dances in preparation for SGE.” said Madame Dupierre. “Regrettable though your dancing ability is, it would be a terrible dishonor to the Glass Mountain royal family if even Readers can dance better than you. Today we will start with a few basic waltz moves. Lord Richard?”
The haughty son of the Grand Duke and Duchess stepped forward from the shadows. Madame Dupierre nodded to the Royal Orchestra members present, and they quickly began playing a regal tune.
“Bow and curtsy!” barked Madame Dupierre. They did as instructed, and then Arielle willed herself not to run off when Richard put his sweaty hand around her waist. The situation couldn’t have been less romantic, with glittering glass ballroom feeling as hot as a greenhouse due to the fact that it was nearing noon, a sweaty, smelly, pretentious fool twirling Arielle around inexpertly, with a perfectionist Madame Dupierre screaming “Twirl!” and “Skirt-swish!” and screeching criticisms every other second, a stick in one hand for “posture adjustment” and a fresh lemon in the other to squirt at Arielle whenever she made even the slightest mistake. By the end of it, Arielle was aching, sore, and drenched in a disgusting mixture of sweat and lemon juice.
Decorum was all about dressing up properly. Madame Le Foux had a very conservative idea of what that meant. Since Arielle’s mind had been “corrupted by that awful Oceancrest place”, they spent the lesson reviewing what NOT to wear.
“Appropriate accessories for princesses include fans, parasols, jewelry, tiaras, shawls, and the occasional dove on the shoulder. As you can see,there is no mention of bows, arrows, swords, spears, or lances. As for princess apparel, there is a wide variety of options, that do not include shirts, work boots, armor, tunics, or anything that you wore at that Ovalrest place. Where makeup is concerned…”
Flirtation was all about attracting a prince’s attention, and it was Arielle’s least favorite subject by far. Madame Gâté had changed her hair and outfit yet again, so now her hair was white-blonde and her gown made of pale pink silk. Today they were supposed to be learning about flaunting assets. Arielle would have gladly zoned out, had it not been for the fact that Madame Gâté had a fresh lemon in her hand as well.
“I would do a lesson on flaunting your assets,” said Madame Gâté appraisingly, “If you actually had any. I suppose you have inherited some of your mother’s features. But beyond that, I don’t see much. So instead, we shall focus on creating assets to flaunt.”
First, Arielle had to attempt to sing a few notes. Unfortunately, she couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. She got the words of the Glass Mountain national anthem wrong, sang “The Glory of Goodness” way off-key, and couldn’t even properly perform “Three Pretty Princesses”. Arielle had always known she was a bad singer, but now she knew she was terrible.
“And the queen wanted you to audition for the SGE school musical!” moaned Madame Gâté.
Next, they tried to do ballet. However, after Arielle sprained her foot, Madame Gâté gave up.
Finally, they attempted to play musical instruments. Arielle knew how to play the flute, but didn’t know how to play it well. Her strong, callused hands were meant for weapons and combat, not playing music. By the end of the session, Madame Gâté looked close to tears.
The maids from the morning reentered to bathe her and get her ready for lunch. Arielle was forced into a tiered ombre pink gown with rose-gold Mary Janes, and then handed a fuschia parasol and fan. Then, under an escort of no less than twelve armed guards, she was taken to a royal carriage and thrown inside. It was a luxurious coach, with a sky-blue Oriental rug, indigo silk cushions, and matching taffeta curtains, but all that Arielle paid attention to was the fact that it seemed specially designed to prevent escape. The diamond-paned coach windows were made of specially reinforced glass, and when Arielle tried the door, she realized it was locked from the outside. And when she looked out the window, she saw Glass Mountain knights riding on horseback around her coach, greatswords and scythes at the ready. Queen Diane had made sure there was no method of escape. Oh, how she hated her mother!
When they got to the Glass Mountain Orchards, the door was finally unlocked and opened. Arielle considered jumping out and making a run for it, but in an instant she was surrounded by a mixture of knights and guards, The coachman sprang off and offered his hand to her, which Arielle didn’t take, to a disapproving cluck from Madame Fiore. “Move. That way.” ordered the Captain of the Guard. Arielle saw no point in resistance. She walked over to the red silk tent, her heart sinking.
When she was a young girl, she had hated life in the Glass Palace. As much as she had despised being a princess, she had loved picnic lunches in the orchards. The Glass Mountain Orchards were incredibly special due to their extraordinary Jewelfruits that grew nowhere else in the Endless Woods. Ruby apples, amethyst plums, emerald pears, topaz mangoes, diamond lychees, sapphire blueberries, the Glass Mountain Orchard had it all. The only thing that could possibly rival the beauty of these legendary fruits was how delicious they tasted. And as a Princess of Glass Mountain, Arielle had the right to grab a fruit whenever she felt like it. It was unusual for Arielle to have happy memories of life at Glass Mountain, but she fondly remembered sunny spring and summer afternoons spent running around through the orchard with the other children of the royal court, chasing butterflies and playing tag until they were so exhausted that they would grab as many jewelfuits as they could carry for a snack and drink the sweet, cold water of the sparkling Crystal Creek that ran through the orchards.
However, now that she was thirteen, there was to be no more playing around. Being shoved and pushed towards the tent by her mother’s guards, Arielle gazed at the glittering domes, spires, towers and turrets of the Glass Palace in the distance, shimmering slightly in the midday sun. For all its beauty the palace was nothing more than a luxury prison, and as she was flung into the picnic tent Arielle reflected miserably that this was hardly more than a trade-off between cells.
The tent was filled with the ladies of the court, Claire’s ladies-in-waiting, important noblewomen, and the Madames. There were also maids serving lunch and guards providing security, along with supervising stewards, but they were not the people Arielle was concerned about. They were eating Pasha Dunes style, meaning on the floor on elaborate Persian carpets. Arielle tried finding a hidden corner where she could avoid talking with these people, as they were the sort who hero-worshipped Queen Diane. Unfortunately, Madame Fiore beckoned her over imperiously, and Arielle was forced to walk over and sit down with the six women she was least willing to spend time with.
Madame Fiore clapped her hands, and maids immediately began serving the first course, a mélange of jewelfruits slathered in Altazarran honey. Arielle dug in hungrily, while everyone around her barely nibbled the dish. It was infuriating to know that outside the gates of this beautiful orchard, beyond the royal luxury of the Glass Palace, a thousand peasants stood screaming for justice, starving and desperate. If any of them had seen what Arielle had seen on her escape from Glass Mountain three years ago, she doubted that they would be throwing away these wondrous fruits as though they were bitter turnip peels, taking for granted luxury they had never earned while hundreds of thousands were barely getting by.
After the fruit they had bacon sandwiches, then Wish Fish soup, then Golden Goose curry, then coconut rice, tomato soup, apple-pecan salad, lemon-ginger tarts, blueberry-vanilla gelato, chocolate truffles, and strawberry cheesecake, while sipping glasses of sparkling elderflower lemonade and cups of rose tea. By the end of it Arielle was feeling a sensation she had long forgotten, which was being unable to eat any more. She tuned out the gossip of the ladies-in-waiting, uninterested in hearing about Prince So-and-so smiling at Claire, Claire’s new hairstyle, Claire’s SGE friends, Claire’s fab shoe collection, Claire’s class ranks, what nail polish Claire used, and when the idiots who ran the Miss Woods beauty pageant would realize who was the most beautiful girl in the Endless Woods. Instead, she chose to work on planning her escape. Eventually they would take her out, and when they did there would be a short moment where she was not surrounded by knights and guards. When that time came, she would have to run as fast as she could and get out of here. Until then, she had to play nice.
“Princess Arielle!” snapped Madame Fiore, jerking her out of her reverie. A dozen ladies-in-waiting were staring at her.
“Yes, Madame Fiore?” asked Arielle guiltily.
“Your Highness,” said a stewardess, “We were merely wondering whether you noticed the stain on your gown.”
Arielle looked down and saw a deep purple spot on her pink gown. She willed herself not to go red with embarrassment. She had spotted an opportunity.
“Oh, yes.” said Arielle sweetly. She turned to Madame Fiore. “May I return to the palace to change, Madame?” asked Arielle, smiling like a perfect princess. “It would be most undignified to go walking around in these rags!”
“Oh, well, I suppose so.” said Madame Fiore, clearly surprised. Arielle and the Madames stood up to leave, and Arielle readied herself she was escorted to the exit.
“The princess wishes to return to the palace to- WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GIRL?”
For Arielle had dashed off into the shelter of the trees, much to the surprise of the guards. They stood stunned for a couple of moments, until Madame Fiore bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”
They chased her through the orchards, and as she ran, Arielle thought about how amusingly similar this was to final exams at Oceancrest. The silver bark of the trees glistened in the midday sun, the golden leaves gleamed, and my feet thudded against the dirt path, which looked as though made of ground copper, the guards in hot pursuit. She sprinted as fast as she could, and when she arrived at Crystal Creek leaped across the larger hunks of rainbow crystal lithely, while the bulky, burly guards struggled to do the same.
Just as she leapt over the golden gate that guarded the legendary fruits, she felt her whole body freeze. Arielle was just stuck, frozen, mid jump over the gate. Ahead of her lay an elegant tent, and Arielle’s eyes, which, thankfully, were still capable of looking around, traveled to the leaded glass table the people around the tent were sitting around. To her horror, she found what was evidently a diplomatic meeting between King Tedros, Queen Agatha, and her mother and father, along with some haggard old women from the Glass Mountain Royal Court that Arielle didn’t recognize. Queen Diane caught her eye and nodded to one of these women, who graciously excused herself.
The woman stepped out, and smiled at Arielle. “Hello darling.” she said in a hoarse, scratchy voice. “I suppose you don’t know who I am. That’s all right, princess.”
Suddenly, she smiled dazzlingly, and Arielle gazed in awe at the stunning transformation. Her wrinkled face turned smooth and flawless, her yellowed teeth turned pearly and white, her filthy rags turned into a diaphanous gown of lustrous silk, her dry, straggly hair become long and glossy, her dull watery eyes turned a royal blue, her chapped lips became dainty and luscious, her hunchbacked posture turned regal and statuesque. What was once a hideous witch had now become a beautiful princess.
No. thought Arielle. Beauty doesn’t make anyone a princess.
The woman snapped her fingers, and suddenly Arielle collapsed to the ground painfully.
“Who-who are you?” Arielle gasped, finding her voice.
“Well, I’m not the type who likes to force herself into boxes.” giggled the woman, her voice now sweet and melodic. “Nor do I like to have names. Really, identities are such troublesome things. However,” she added, kneeling down and lifting Arielle’s head up gently, “The one thing you ought to know about me is that I am whatever I want to be.”
The woman treated her to another one of those beautiful smiles, and then Arielle had a fleeting vision of a demoness, with flames for hair, a robe made of stars, cracked skin made of volcanic rock oozing lava, and glowing eyes radiating a blinding light before her world went black.