Fandom: Chronicles of Chrestomanci
Summary: Millie's first weeks at South Stafford Young Ladies College
Prompt: Dec 24: Seule en ce lieu sauvage/Alone in this Savage Place, #17 - Brown
Disclaimer: The characters and worlds of Chrestomanci belong to Diana Wynne Jones and her publishers. No money is being made from this fan work.
Author's Notes: I took up Chrestomanci on the fanfic100 challenge – this means I'm writing 100 Chrestomanci fics to a hundred different prompts. So if there is anything in particular you'd like to see which fits into the Chrestomanci fandom (if you want to see more of a particular character, or you want a particular ship or plot) tell me about it in a review or by email. I'm going to need the extra ideas by the time I hit 60/100 fics, so I may as well write fics which you want to read.
Compared to the other girls at the South Stafford Young Ladies College, Millie is a rich coffee brown. Her shoulders still hold the patterns of her rust-red robes, the four lines of crossed straps outlined in white upon her back. Her silver serpent-headed bangle used to be tight around her wrist; now there is nothing but the brush of cold air and the gleam of pale skin.
The girls look at her from the corners of curious eyes when she arrives. Their skin is as pale as the snow she has never seen. Their hair is brown and blonde; their colourless lashes hiding blue eyes. They whisper behind their hands; Millie notices, and stands a little taller beside Miss Rosalie.
"Millie Proudfoot?" The teacher calls. She is a stern, grey-faced woman, just like Miss Trundletrench at Lowood School (Millie finds her inner spirit of compassionate duty, and loves her for it).
"Millie, Miss Smith will take you to your dormitory. Make sure to write to all of us at the Castle." The whispers increase, but Millie is transfixed by stolen glimpses of blackboards and ink-splattered desks through half-open doors, and so doesn't notice. "We don't know who will be available to pick you up when the holidays come, so we'll inform the school once we know for sure."
Millie remembers Millie in the Lower Sixth and wraps her sun-brown arms around Rosalie's waist. "Miss you." She straightens, brushing away a non-existent tear. "Make sure Christopher doesn't get himself killed again." She runs after Miss Smith, her new plaits striking a staccato upon her back.
"Where are you from?" A blonde Sarah asks, when they bring out an illegal candle on the first night. In the almost-darkness the yellow candlelight reflects odd shadows upon new faces; Millie's skin looks as dark as new leather.
"I've been living in Egypt," she tells them, as de Witt had told her to. "My guardian is an archaeologist, working to uncover an old temple to the goddess Asheth, in the Valley of the Queens. But he's friends with the Chrestomanci, so I'll be staying at Chrestomanci Castle in the hols."
The sparse light brings to her the promise of midnight feasts and Adventure. The others talk and gabber, asking her questions of Chrestomanci (she rolls her eyes), of Egypt (she lies, feeling as Guilty as Millie in Millie in the Upper Fourth), and when the smallest, most-freckled girl asks her of Asheth she mutters, "The dead Goddess of another world."
There is an Indian girl in Millie's Literature Class (Daydream Class, the others call it). Her skin is as dark as the chocolate Simona brought out last night, and her long black braid brushes the seat of her chair. Yellow gold bangles clang on her wrists, and her hands are stained with dark brown patterning. She sits alone during lunch as others crowd around her, pushing their way to bench-seats in the Long Hall. As others shovel chocolate pudding into their tight pink mouths, Millie watches the girl. When her bangles clink against her plate Millie rubs the thin tan lines upon her arms in memory.
"That's just little Aadi. Aadi Chandiramani, or Chanadaramarti or somesuch. She's never friends with anyone." Millie remembers the lesson learnt in Millie's Hols by the Sea, and feels alone.
Millie has always been alone. She didn't know this for years, not until Christopher brought her the books in wax-paper; or perhaps from the moment she first saw him, as awkward and young as herself. She remembers being alone; she remembers the heat, the scent of incense, the harsh glare of sun off her golden arms in the Shrine of Asheth. Alone, with only the Goddess deep inside.
But now, all day she is surrounded by noise and bodies – the smells of cheap school detergent, the scratch of woollen tunics against her arms through the halls. No one touched her without her permission, when she was a Goddess.
Aadi draws minarets rising above the flats in Daydream Class the next week; the towers stand above, aloof and alone.
Millie can't sleep. She fears walking into a dream as real as Christopher's, and finding herself back at the Temple. She fears walking into a dream, and realising the Temple never was and all she has never known is the chatter of girls in blue uniforms as they meander through the halls. But mostly she cannot stand the stiff mattress and single, flat pillow she is given. The second night she considers conjuring some from the first form common room, but she doesn't want the girls to know of her magic. So, instead, she pulls off her thick nightshift, bunching it up so she can prop the pillow up.
She wakes from a dreamless sleep, and her neck is sore.
Each night, as she awaits the darkness of restless sleep, she sees the other girls kneel, their elbows propped against the quilts. They mumble their wishes to a far off God, cross themselves and slip into bed. They do not know the fears of the darkness, she tells herself. They have no need of a God. They do not even know their God, she scorns; he lives in a far off Heaven, and only came to them once, and only when the world ends will he come again.
She sits through one mass, a long and boring affair where the Heathen Priest talks of the Sins of the flesh, and God's Mercy. (Is that Mercy, to forgive what doesn't need to be forgiven? she wonders.) She feels disgusted, and writes to Christopher. Christopher tells Tacroy, who speaks to Rosalie, who carries the message to Gabriel, who writes a short note informing the school that his ward has been raised in a pagan faith and will not be forced to join the students in the worship of a God she does not understand.
The others notice when she does not attend mass on Sunday morning. Even Aadi does that, they mutter, and she's practically Heathen. Miss Smith takes her aside, and asks her about her faith (showing her compassionate love, just like Miss Trundletrench does in Millie's Worst Winter). The next Sunday Millie finds cheap incense sticks on top of her trunk, and a key to get her into one of the piano cells in the basement.
She walks down the stairs, alone for the first time in weeks. The silence echoes, her footsteps disturbing the still air trapped inside the sandstone walls. Alone, she lights the sticks, and musky smoke lingers in the air as it creeps towards the high, barred window. She closes her eyes, breathing in the familiar scent of white sage. She feels nothing, none of the tingling power she had as a Goddess, where her second arms would spread from her torso, forming from the smoke.
She tries to pray, as others must pray to the Goddess – silently, receiving no response. But she fears talking to the one she abandoned; the Arm of Asheth will come down on the school, if ever Asheth hears her, and then her one life will be taken.
So she sits in the smoke, alone. She pulls off the constricting tunic, the thick wool stockings, the heavy linen shirt. She is naked once more, but not before her Goddess.
The silence and the nothing echoes around her, playing tone-less tunes in the piano strings. She shivers. The stone floor is cold against her bare back; as cold as England.
She returns to her giggling classmates, and feels alone. The laughs and the smiles pass her by, however popular she has become in barely three weeks.
She brushes past Aadi on her way to the bathroom. The scent of exoticism, of far-off bazaars, of Temples, of funerals, of India lingers on Millie's dark skin and her starched tunic. Aadi's eyes open wide, a smile coming to her dry, cut lips.
Together, they make their way alone.