A/N: The first two chapters are exactly the same as the ones in regular old "The Plot." After that, it's much more fun! O, and feel free to write me at vauntedone@space.com with comments, complaints and weirdness of any kind. See that little box down there at the bottom? FILL IT IN! Thanks!
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If I have to listen to one more crumby love poem to some court idiot, I'm going
to throw up. It would be bad enough if it were anyone else. Bo-ring! Not to
mention stupid. No matter what Neal thinks, all of those ladies are way out of
his league. And I, who am very in it, am downright sick of getting run through
the wringer every time a new face shows up at court.
In fact, I'm SO sick of it that it's time to try out the evil plot. I heard
that the Lioness did something like this once, wandering around in "disguise."
Only she had something to work with. I am pretty much instantly recognizable.
I'm too tall, too strong and too wide to pass off as just another lady at court.
That's the beauty of "the plan."
I can't really take credit for the whole thing. After all, it was really
Lalassa who put the idea in my mind in the first place. My mother had ordered a
really nice dress for me as a sort of midwinter surprise, and Lalassa said it
truly transformed me. How nice it would be if that were true! And then I
realized that it could be...
I have about a million sisters, cousins, nieces and the like. Nobody knows all
of them, not even members of our family. I can explain the height and build by
claiming relation. With the auburn wig that I bribed Oranie to buy for me, no
one should suspect a thing.
King Jonathan's holding a ball to celebrate the anniversary of his marriage to
Queen Thayet. Normally I despise these things, so it was no surprise when I
asked Sir Raoul if I could skip the gala to meet with family that would be in
town. What was sort of odd was the fact that he let me go. Usually he likes to
make me squirm through the things. Thank Mithros he changed his tune this time!
It wasn't TOO hard to talk Oranie into covering for me in case Sir Raoul should
ask after me. She was overjoyed to see her tomboy little sister making a play
for a man – even a play this bizarre.
The fact that I'm voluntarily going to a full-dress ball is weird enough. But
that I'm going to be the belle of it? That's something straight out of a bad
bard's song. Even so, I'm going to have Lalassa fix me up like a regular lady
and more. The dress is something else, a deep blue with sparkles that look like
the stars on a clear night. It looks even better with my new red hair shot
through with the selfsame gems. I'm a little nervous about the neckline, but I
suppose that's what will get me the attention I'm hoping for. The tight
fitted-bodice that swells into a full skirt might help to slender me out a bit,
too. Trust me, I need it. My own sisters say I'm built like a cow.
It's awfully hard to sit still while my friend crops my already short hair
enough that it won't interfere with the wig. That's the easiest part, I
suppose. I grit my teeth, reminding myself that I am stone as Lalassa prepares
to fit me with earbobs. I like the sparkly gems she found; they match
everything else perfectly.
Well, that's over. Now I just have to sit still and have my face and "hair"
fussed with. It's awfully hard not to fidget as Lalassa applies those paints to
my face with relish. The brushes tickle! I have to hold still while she coats
my arms and collarbone, too, to cover the tan I've picked up in the practice
yards. "That won't smudge off?"
"It's the expensive stuff, witched not to." That makes me feel a little
better, at least. Imagine my new image dripping off me in the middle of a
dance!
Maybe ladies don't have it all wrong, after all. There's a hint of a battle in
preparation for a ball. Armed with all the proper decorations and a few
smoldering looks, they're after the kill as much as any warrior.
All right, so I'm just trying to make myself feel a little bit better about
this ridiculousness. The Yamanis are right. Emotion IS weakness. Look what
it's brought me to!
After an eternity with a little bit added for good measure, she's done. "Just
look at yourself," she beams, twirling me to face the mirror she'd used to
secure my pseudo-hair. I can't believe how un-me-like I look. How beautiful I
look. This pale, green-eyed redhead bears little resemblance to the plain-Jane
I usually see staring back at me.
"Now for the gown," the seamstress says with relish. I reluctantly part with
my trusty tunic and breeches. "The breast band will have to go, too."
"Huh?" I should've guessed it, but I wasn't quite ready for that one. I can
feel the blush creeping up my face as I struggle out of the garment. "Very
ladylike," she laughs as she pulls the whispery fabric up around my shoulders.
"Now hold still while I stitch you in."
"Stitch me in?! Whatever for?"
"You'll get the best fit that way. And, with the mood you're in, I'm sure of
your honor as well."
"How could you even think that?" I'm furious now, and probably red as a beet.
"That would ruin everything!"
"Your heart's run away with your head. Maybe this'll help get it back." She
grinned wickedly. "You should know I'm just teasing. This'll just help your
gown hang better than if it were buttoned or laced."
I'm not going to say a thing. I'm afraid angry words are going to pop out of
my mouth, after all she's done for me. Instead, I just hold my arms up over my
head as Lalassa whips tiny stitches, in her element.
I'm almost too scared to look in the mirror. Looking down is terrifying
enough. The top of my dress might just as well be absent entirely. But, it
looks really, really… I look like I ought to be the subject of poetry, in my
own humble opinion. SO what if it took hours of faking it to get me there?
Lalassa opens the door and sticks her head around the corner. "All clear," she
whispers. "If anyone sees you, look confused and ask for directions to the
ballroom."
I nod and give her a quick hug. "Thank you," I beam, forgiving her. I gather
my skirts and my courage as she pushes me out the door and point my slipper-shod
feet in the direction of the ballroom.