5/17/09 - Just so everyone knows, I started writing this fic way before SFT was released, so it only takes into account the events of AGATB and RA. It's also been a while since I've read any of the books, so if I make mistakes in the more recent updates, please don't hesitate to let me know! This story has kind of taken on a mind of its own, but I really do hope to finish it. Thanks to everyone who has born with me thus far!
I have heard whispers that I am being hunted. Hunted, not by creatures of the Realms, but by those I had once thought of as my own, as my mentors, as my sisters. Yet the realisation that they are just as hell-bent on the acquisition of power as all the rest has divested me of any sympathy I held for them. How I am supposed to align myself with their cause, if I suspect they will kill me as soon as they are able? It is hopeless, hopeless.
It has cost me, to sever my connection to the Order. They alone know how to use and control the magic. Here I am, a novice at best, holding all the power the Realms has to give without the slightest clue as to its proper use. There are days when the future looks so bleak that I would forfeit anything in exchange for their guidance. I went from mere visitor to sole caretaker of the Realms in less than six months, and I cannot say that I've borne the burden well.
Kartik kindly offered the heartening comment that at least they will not kill me, not until they have found a way to rebind the magic in their favour. I haven't the foggiest as to their capabilities, so I'm reluctanct to find comfort in this thought.
And if all of that isn't enough, I am to have my first season this summer. I will be watched like a hawk by my grandmother and every other busybody in London. I am not likely to see Ann ever again, and Felicity only at social functions. It takes all the strength I have not to withdraw and start a new life in the Realms, leaving this mess of an existence behind for good.
It has been a long, difficult week. Mostly, this is because I have spent the length of it with my grandmother, who has been left in charge of the preperations for my greatly anticipated (by all but me) Debutante Ball, and has been acting put out by it all day. Yet it is I that should be acting put out, as I am the one on the stool, being poked and prodded by an elderly, half-blind seamstress.
The dress I am being fitted for is lovely, and most likely beyond our means, but this does not seem to concern my grandmother, who is beaming fondly at it. It is Italian silk taffeta, with tiny, butter-colored roses embroidered in velvet over the bodice and skirt. The style, cut, and fine white material is in such a palpable mockery of a wedding gown that the corners of my mouth fall in pouting bow of distaste. Marriage is the very farthest thing from my mind at this moment.
Glancing over my shoulder, I grimace at the way the fabric has been gathered into a revolting double bustle at the back. It's impossible to tell if this is meant to simply hide the shape of my buttocks or to keep me from sitting down. Either way, it's fulfilling its purpose most admirably.
"I have a similar dress in more of a champagne colour, if you'd prefer, Madam," comments the seamstress blithely, smoothing the fine material over my hips.
"No, thank you," answers my grandmother. "She is being presented, and besides, the white is lovely. Do you not think so, Gemma?"
I smile brightly. "Oh, quite lovely. It is the loveliest thing I have ever seen," I answer, in a sweetly light tone that makes my own skin crawl. I must appear be quite the young lady, and I cannot say that it has been a simple thing to keep up the illusion.
"Yes, I agree. It'll do quite nicely, I think. Mrs. McFarley, if you'd be kind enough to have the alterations completed by the week's end? For now, we are due back at home. I'm expecting a social call."
"Oh?" I say, trying to sound neutral. Truth be told, I'd be grateful for some human company, since Felicity is on holiday in Paris for another week, and Ann has taken a position with a family in Brighton for the summer. She says it is only temporary, so that she can save up some money, but none of us really believe this. She may have accepted her fate as a governes, yes; but at least she did it in her own manner, instead of dooming herself into the employment of her unpleasant cousins. Yet I've not heard from either of them in two weeks, and I, forced to bounce back and forth between my brother and grandmother, am in very real danger of losing my mind.
"You know, it's the oddest thing, really," says Grandmama as the seamstress helps me out of the dress, cradling it in her arms as she carries it to the back of the shop. "I got a letter from her two weeks ago, entirely unsolicited. Not that I was not delighted to hear from her – she is my brother's only granddaughter, the Lady Lenora Courtenay –"
"Lady?" I interrupt in surprise, before I can stop myself.
Grandmother frowns at me, but makes no further comment. "Yes, indeed. Her father is the Earl of Devon."
Well, that explains why Grandmama is in such a rush to get home. I, on the other hand, am dissatisfied – the meagre fact that her father is a member of the Peerage promises her to be either frightfully dull or frightfully snobbish.
"She heard, somehow, that you were to have your first season, and has offered to be your chaperone," says my grandmother, positively glowing with delight.
I, in contrast, feel my body grow suddenly heavy, as if pulled down at the wrists and neck by lead balls. This is nearly as crushing as the idea that Grandmama or Tom shall be in charge of breathing down my neck at balls and social calls.
"My chaperone?" I ask, maintaining a mild tone of voice.
"Yes. She is a young woman, unmarried herself, so I am sure you will find her company much more agreeable than mine."
In other words, Grandmama is hoping Lady Courtenay will rub off on me.
When I appear unimpressed, she changes tacts. "But she is newly one-and-twenty, and rumour has it that she has already refused two proposals of marriage. Both of them fine matches, I hear. Nevertheless, she is a most respectable young lady. We musn't think ill of her for being selective."
If I let my grandmother fire up her gossip, there will be no end in sight, and I shall certainly lose my clinging semblance of sanity.
"She must have had two seasons already," I comment mildly, trying to maintain the focus of the conversation. After all, it is most unusual for the daughter of an Earl to go so long without finding a suitable match, and I wonder if there is something more to this cousin than I have given her credit for.
"Oh, yes, most assuredly. Before he died, I remember my brother writing to me about her, and what an opinionated child she was. I expect it's carried on into adulthood," says Grandmama fondly, convinced of Lady Courtenay's gentility.
I give a quiet sigh of disappointment. If only Grandmama had said 'headstrong' or even 'picky' – but the sugary 'opinionated' makes the girl sound spoilt and contrary, and I find myself again longing for my friends. I haven't even been away from Spence for a month, and yet even the chance of bumping into Elizabeth Poole at her mother's garden party this Sunday isn't entirely depressing.
I sigh softly in resignation, knowing that I shall have to learn to cope with people like Lady Courtenay if I am ever to be a competent wife and hostess. It's just as well that I start learning now.
I have managed to forget myself for a moment, and remembrance returns with bitter profundity.
Oh, who am I trying to fool? Even if I ever am a wife, I will never be able to spare the time or attention required to be a proper hostess. Without a mentor, I must learn to use my power by trial and error, left to keep peace and prosperity in a world that is not my own. If I am to ever have help, or allies, I will have to seek out my own and teach them myself.
The task is too much for me to think of right now. I long for the mindless frivolity of maintaining reputations and husband-hunting. I would give anything to go to a ball and be frantic with worry about tripping over my train rather than whether the suspicious-looking man in the corner is a member of the Rakshana, sent to punish Kartik for his disloyalty.
I sigh. It's useless to long for such things; I am in far too deep to change my circumstances now. It is like Kartik says; a person must accept the fate she is born to, or waste her life wishing. I will not be that girl. There is one place to go now, and that is forward.