A/N: Hullo! I wrote this a long time after reading House of Many Ways, so there will probably be a few mistakes with how I wrote High Norland and how I wrote the characters. I'm certain that there are grammatical and spelling errors somewhere, too. I also fear that I've made it too long. I apologize in advance. I will be editing this after I reread House of Many Ways (after three other books.)
Disclaimer: I am not Diana Wynne Jones, therefore, I do not own the Howl's Moving Castle series.
"Have you ever heard of a Royal Wizard becoming queen before? Or princess, even?" Calcifer remarked to twenty-year-old Charmaine Baker in a sly tone.
Calcifer looked like a long, blue teardrop with a face. He was blue, but his eyes were a flaming orange. He spoke with a dry, crackling voice.
Charmain looked at the fire demon through bespectacled eyes, frowning. What was he insinuating? She herself was a Royal Wizard, appointed just very recently, but she'd been a plausible candidate since two years ago, when she had first entered the apprenticeship of Great-Uncle William, or Royal Wizard Norland, as he was more widely known. He was her mentor and was still in good health despite his old age. She had the elves to thank for that, as they had removed the deadly lubbock eggs from him. It was quite a long story.
"No. The fact that there are so few female Royal Wizards might be a cause," she shrugged, giving up and then lazily sat on a nearby chair. It was just one of Calcifer's coy hints. She knew that he was trying to tell her something, but she was too tired and busy to think about it. "Besides, if that happened, I think it would cause an uproar. A queen or a princess and a Royal Wizard have different duties, and these duties might clash with each other. Also, she might be too preoccupied with them to actually do anything properly. It wouldn't be good for the kingdom. I think it would be quite scandalous if that happens."
Sighing resignedly, Calcifer headed towards the door. He stopped moving, floating in midair. "A Royal Wizard as queen would have its advantages, you know," A pause. "You really can't see it, can you?"
She glared at him, annoyed. She had quite a night ahead of her and she deserve at least a few minutes of peace. Wanting to tell him off but also wanting to know, she grudgingly asked, "See what?"
"He can't see it, either," he mused to himself, ignoring her question. "Well, you should quit lying around and get ready for the ball. I'll see you there." He floated out.
Charmain groaned, and leaned on the chair. It made a creaky noise. Her eyes stayed shut for at least ten more minutes than she had originally planned. There were no dreams, and she finally woke up due to a wet sensation on her neck and face.
"Waif!" she scolded, seeing the enchanted dog, who was sitting on her lap demurely. Beside Waif were her five puppies, all in the same pose. Charmain still didn't know what to name them, but they didn't seem to mind. "Great! Bother you six, I have to take a bath again." she walked off towards the bathroom in Wizard Norland's—and hers, too, now—home, thankful that he was off in the castle to help prepare the ball itself. It would have been awkward for him to have to notice Charmain getting ready for the ball.
Unknown to Charmain, Calcifer emerged through the front door and into the living room. He'd been hiding outside. Waif and her pups soon followed into that room.
"Did you get her to take a bath?" The blue flame asked the dog. Quite a strange sight, for an ordinary person.
Waif barked in reply.
Calcifer seemed pleased with himself, if a little amused. "Good. She needs to look her best tonight. Can you lead me back to the castle?"
Waif wagged her tail and she (and her puppies) began to lead Calcifer to the castle in the way of the Conference Room. There was a passage from the house to anywhere in High Norland, and maybe even the neighboring countries, Calcifer deduced as he followed them in an almost-leisurely manner.
"Blast it," Charmain grumbled, looking at the gold silk ball gown that was spread on the bed. It was beautiful and elegant, just the right shade to make her red hair and the yellow in her green eyes stand out. Her mother had picked it out in one of the shops in town a fortnight ago. However, the thought of wearing it made Charmain uncomfortable. She was used to simpler clothing, most especially the robes that had come with wizardry and magic training. She wore dresses underneath, of course, but ball gowns were a whole new area.
Gingerly, she put it on over her underclothes, wondering if she was doing it right. The edges of her shoulders up to her fingertips were pale and bare, with no fabric concealing them. She was unfamiliar with this type of dress. She found the zipper soon—it was on the left side of the dress, thankfully, and not on the back.
Closing it, she walked over to the tall mirror placed in one of her room's corners. The dress was tight, but not too tight, and Charmain liked the way it made her feel like a fairytale princess in one of the many books she'd read. It made her look better and her hair and eyes were brighter, but she knew that if she didn't fix her hair and face up, she wouldn't be looking like a princess anytime soon.
As she always had during times of pressure, Charmain wanted to read a book. Why bother getting ready, anyway? It wasn't like she was trying to impress anyone. Besides, she was a Royal Wizard, and not a princess. She didn't have to look like one.
Satisfied with this argument, she did a quick air spell to dry her hair, then she spun it into a hasty bun (she'd been wearing her hair this way for the past year), and made her way to the library, almost forgetting to put her glasses on. She still had not fully explored and understood the Boke of Palimpest even after two years of studying it (there always seemed to be something new there every day), so she decided on reading it and brought it back with herself to the living room.
It seemed like fate didn't want her doing what she wanted because as soon as she settled on one of the chairs, the sound of the doorbell rang throughout the house. Sighing—she seemed to be sighing a lot that day—Charmain placed the Boke of Palimpest on the coffee table and unwillingly got up to open the door.
It was her Mother, who instantly looked at her with a critical eye. Charmain was too surprised to utter a polite greeting.
Mrs. Baker was dressed in a green ball gown, which settled in nicely with her dark auburn hair and cocoa brown eyes. She was ready for the ball, which was more than to could said for Charmain. With a sigh of her own, she told her daughter, "Well, at least your hair's dry and you found the zipper. What are you waiting for? Let me in and let's get you ready."
Charmain let Mother in accordingly, replying to her questions ("Have you been eating? You look thinner.") patiently.
"Mother," she said gently, interrupting her parent, who was her about the importance of eating small meals every few hours. (Charmain thought she hardly needed this lecture; she ate a lot.) "I don't mean to sound rude, but why are you here? I wasn't expecting you to help me get ready."
For a second there was a flicker in Mother's expression, something sneaky, but it was gone as quickly as it came so Charmain didn't notice. "Don't complain," she said in a no-nonsense voice. "I was just concerned you weren't doing very good," she gestured at the Boke of Palimpest, which was on the coffee table as Charmain had left it earlier. "And I was right. You were reading again, instead of getting ready."
The expression on Charmain's face was guilty and quite sheepish.
"It's okay, dear, as long as you brush up on your eating. You're even thinner than before." Her mother relented. "Now, where are your gloves and shoes?"
Obediently, Charmain fetched the things her mother asked for. Mother made her wear the gloves first, which were made of the same material as the dress. They wrapped snugly around her forearm, reaching her elbows.
"I don't see the point in wearing heeled sandals with heels this high. It's not like anyone can see the shoes, anyway. The dress is too long." she argued weakly as Mother (who was having none of Charmain's protests) made her slip on the ebony black sandals. The heels were three inches long, two more inches than what Charmain was used to.
"Now, for your hair," Mother said. "Don't tell me you're going to wear it that way." Not waiting for Charmain's reply, she eased the hair out of its bun.
"Just tell me what you want with it. I can—"
She held up a finger. "No, no magic."
Charmain resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
In ten minutes, Mother managed to coax the ginger's pin-straight hair into a neat half ponytail. On the crown of her head, strands of red were braided and coiled into a circle to resemble, well, a crown. Not exactly a crown, but more like… a circlet! A circlet of braided hair. It was quite clever.
Charmain gaped at her reflection, surprised at the difference that the hair made. She looked… pretty. In a librarian sort of way, all clean and neat and spectacles, if you didn't count her dress, which was more of princess-y instead of librarian-y.
Mother lightly dusted some powder on Charmain's face, covering her freckles. "There you go," she said fondly. "Now, if only we could do something about those glasses of yours."
The Royal Wizard had to bite her lip to keep from blurting out that she had had her eyesight fixed by Great-Uncle William, and only wore her glasses because they made her look more mature and wizard-y. She didn't want to admit it, though, because while her Mother didn't despise magic that much before, she still wouldn't approve of Charmain's nearsightedness being fixed by magic. No one actually knew about it except her and Great-Uncle William.
"I could take it off," she offered, mumbling, to ease the guilt of hiding something from Mother.
"Now that's a dear. But are you sure?"
"Yes. It's only for a few hours, anyway." Charmain shrugged, and took her spectacles off. "I'll keep them in my purse, just in case."
Her mother smiled, pleased, as she handed her a tiny black purse. "You look wonderful, Charmain. You look ready for a ball. One last thing," she took out a necklace out of her own purse. The chain was gold, but the pendant was clearly diamond. A diamond rose. Charmain gasped, recognizing it as the family heirloom. A necklace passed from female to female in the family. "Wear it," Mother told her and she did so. Mother's eyes were a bit teary.
"Mother, Mother, it's fine." she said hastily, wanting to avoid some sort of sentimental mother-daughter talk.
"You're right," Mother's smile grew wider, and she handed her daughter a hand mirror.
Charmain took it and looked at herself. She knew that if she hadn't been made over by her mother, she wouldn't have looked have as pretty without her glasses as she did now. In fact, she'd been planning to wear her glasses for the ball, but this wasn't so bad.
She grinned widely, unable to keep it hidden.