Ella Enchanted, Page 2Gail Carson Levine
I arranged myself as far from Father as possible. He was staring out the window.
“A fine affair. All of Frell came, everyone who counts anyway,” he said, as though Mother’s funeral had been a tournament or a ball.
“It wasn’t fine. It was awful,” I said. How could Mother’s funeral be fine?
“The prince was friendly to you.”
“He liked Mother.”
“Your mother was beautiful.” His voice was regretful. “I’m sorry she’s dead.”
Nathan flicked his whip, and the carriage began to move.
When we reached the manor, Father ordered me to change into something clean and to hurry down to greet the guests who were arriving to pay their respects.
My room was peaceful. Everything was just as it had been before Mother died. The birds embroidered into the coverlet on my bed were safe in their world of cross-stitched leaves. My diary was on the dresser. The friends of my childhood—Flora, the rag doll, and Rosamunde, the wooden doll in the gown with seven flounces—nestled in their basket.
I sat on the bed, fighting my need to obey Father’s order to change and go back downstairs. Although I wanted to draw comfort from my room, from my bed, from the light breeze coming through my window, I kept thinking instead of Father and getting dressed.
Once I had overheard Bertha tell Mandy that he was only a person on the outside and that his insides were ashes mixed with coins and a brain.
But Mandy had disagreed. “He’s human through and through. No other creature would be as selfish as he is, not fairies or gnomes or elves or giants.”
For a full three minutes I delayed getting dressed. It was a terrible game I played, trying to break my curse, seeing how long I could last against the need to do what I had been told. There was a buzzing in my ears, and the floor seemed to tilt so far that I feared I would slide off the bed. I hugged my pillow until my arms hurt—as if the pillow were an anchor against following orders.
In a second I was going to fly apart into a thousand pieces. I stood and walked to my wardrobe. Immediately I felt perfectly fine.
Although I suspected Father wanted me to wear another mourning gown, I put on the frock Mother liked best. She said the spicy green brought out my eyes. I thought I looked like a grasshopper in it—a skinny, spiky grasshopper with a human head and straight hair. But at least the gown wasn’t black. She hated black clothing.
The great hall was full of people in black. Father came to me instantly. “Here’s my lass, young Eleanor,” he said loudly. He led me in, whispering, “You look like a weed in that gown. You’re supposed to be in mourning. They’ll think you have no respect for your—”
I was engulfed from behind by two chubby arms encased in rustling black satin.
“My poor child, we feel for you.” The voice was syrupy. “And Sir Peter, it’s dreadful to see you on such a tragic occasion.” An extra tight squeeze and I was released.
The speaker was a tall, plump lady with long and wavy honey-colored tresses. Her face was a pasty white with twin spots of rouge on the cheeks. With her were two smaller versions of herself, but without the rouge. The younger one also lacked her mother’s abundant hair; instead she had thin curls stuck tight to her scalp as though glued there.
“This is Dame Olga,” Father said, touching the tall lady’s arm.
I curtsied and knocked into the younger girl. “Beg pardon,” I said.
She didn’t answer, didn’t move, only watched me.
Father continued. “Are these your lovely daughters?”
“They are my treasures. This is Hattie, and this is Olive. They are off to finishing school in a few days.”
Hattie was older than I, by about two years. “Delighted to make your acquaintance,” she said, smiling and showing large front teeth. She held her hand out to me as though she expected me to kiss it or bow over it.
I stared, uncertain what to do. She lowered her arm, but continued to smile.
Olive was the one I’d bumped. “I’m glad to meet you,” she said, her voice too loud. She was about my age. The furrows of a frown were permanently etched between her eyes.
“Comfort Eleanor in her grief,” Dame Olga told her daughters. “I want to talk with Sir Peter.” She took Father’s arm, and they left us.
“Our hearts weep for you,” Hattie began. “When you bellowed at the funeral, I thought what a poor thing you are.”
“Green isn’t a mourning color,” Olive said.
Hattie surveyed the room. “This is a fine hall, almost as fine as the palace, where I’m going to live someday. Our mother, Dame Olga, says your father is very rich. She says he can make money out of anything.”
“Out of a toenail,” Olive suggested.
“Our mother, Dame Olga, says your father was poor when he married your mother. Our mother says Lady Eleanor was rich when they got married, but your father made her richer.”
“We’re rich too,” Olive said. “We’re lucky to be rich.”
“Would you show us the rest of the manor?” Hattie asked.
We went upstairs and Hattie had to look everywhere. She opened the wardrobe in Mother’s room and, before I could stop her, ran her hands over Mother’s gowns. When we got back to the hall, she announced, “Forty-two windows and a fireplace in every room. The windows must have cost a trunkful of gold KJs.”
“Do you want to know about our manor?” Olive asked.
I didn’t care if they lived in a hollow log.
“You’ll have to visit us and see for yourself,” Hattie said in response to my silence.
We stood near the side table, which was loaded with mountains of food, from a whole roast hart with ivy threaded through its antlers to butter cookies as small and lacy as snowflakes. I wondered how Mandy had had time to cook it all.
“Would you like something to eat?”
“Ye—” Olive began, but her sister interrupted firmly.
“Oh, no. No thank you. We never eat at parties. The excitement quite takes away our appetites.”
“My appetite—” Olive tried again.
“Our appetites are small. Mother worries. But it looks delicious.” Hattie edged toward the food. “Quail eggs are such a delicacy. Ten brass KJs apiece. Olive, there are fifty at least.”
More quail eggs than windows.
“I like gooseberry tarts,” Olive said.
“We mustn’t,” Hattie said. “Well, maybe a little.”
A giant couldn’t eat half a leg of deer plus a huge mound of wild rice and eight of the fifty quail eggs and go back for dessert. But Hattie could.
Olive ate even more. Gooseberry tarts and currant bread and cream trifle and plum pudding and chocolate bonbons and spice cake—all dribbled over with butter rum sauce and apricot sauce and peppermint sauce.
They brought their plates close to their faces so their forks had the shortest possible distance to travel. Olive ate steadily, but Hattie put her fork down every so often to pat her mouth daintily with her napkin. Then she’d tuck in again, as avidly as ever.
It was disgusting to watch. I looked down at a throw rug that used to lie under Mother’s chair. Today it had been moved near the food. I had never concentrated on it before.
A hound and hunters chased a boar toward a fringe of scarlet wool. As I stared, I saw movement. Wind stirred the grass by the boar’s feet. I blinked and the movement stopped. I stared again and it started again.
The dog had just bayed. I felt his throat relax. One of the hunters limped, and I felt a cramp in his calf. The boar gasped for breath and ran on fear and rage.
“What are you looking at?” Olive asked. She had finished eating.
I started. I felt as if I’d been in the rug. “Nothing. Just the carpet.” I glanced at the rug again. An ordinary carpet with an ordinary design.
“Your eyes were popping out.”
“They looked like an ogre’s eyes,” Hattie said. “Buggy. But there, you look more normal now.”
She never looked normal. She looked like a rabbit. A fat one, the kind Mandy liked to slaughter for stew. And Olive’s face was as blank as a peeled potato.
“I don’t suppose your eyes ever pop out,” I said.
“I don’t think so.” Hattie smiled complacently.
“They’re too small to pop.”
The smile remained, but now it seemed pasted on. “I forgive you, child. We in the peerage are forgiving. Your poor mother used to be known for her ill breeding too.”
Mother used to be known. The past tense froze my tongue.
“Girls!” Dame Olga bore down on us. “We must be going.” She hugged me, and my nose filled with the stink of spoiled milk.
They left. Father was outside at the iron gate, saying good-bye to the rest of the guests. I went to Mandy in the kitchen.
She was piling up dirty dishes. “Seems like those people didn’t eat for a week.”
I put on an apron and pumped water into the sink. “They never tasted your food before.”
Mandy’s cooking was better than anybody else’s. Mother and I used to try her recipes sometimes. We’d follow the instructions exactly and the dish would be delicious, but never as wonderful as when Mandy cooked it.
Somehow, it reminded me of the rug. “The carpet in the hall with the hunters and the boar, you know the one? Something funny happened to me when I looked at it before.”
“Oh, that silly thing. You shouldn’t pay attention to that old rug.” She turned to stir a pot of soup.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just a fairy joke.”
A fairy rug! “How do you know?”
“It belonged to Lady.” Mandy always called Mother “Lady.”
That wasn’t an answer. “Did my fairy godmother give it to her?”
“A long time ago.”
“Did Mother ever tell you who my fairy godmother is?”
“No, she didn’t. Where’s your father?”
“He’s outside, saying good-bye. Do you know anyway? Even though she never told you?”
“Who my fairy godmother is.”
“If she’d wanted you to know, your mother would have told you.”
“She was going to. She promised. Please tell, Mandy.”
“You are not telling. Who is it?”
“Me. Your fairy godmother is me. Here, taste the carrot soup. It’s for dinner. How is it?”
My mouth opened automatically. The spoon descended and a hot—but not burning—swallow poured in. Mandy had gotten the carrots at their sweetest, carrotiest best. Weaving in and out of the carrots were other flavors: lemon, turtle broth, and a spice I couldn’t name. The best carrot soup in the world, magical soup that nobody but Mandy could make.
The rug. The soup. This was fairy soup. Mandy was a fairy!
But if Mandy was a fairy, why was Mother dead?
“You’re not a fairy.”
“If you were, you would have saved her.”
“Oh, sweetie, I would have if I could. If she’d left the hair in my curing soup, she’d be well today.”
“You knew? Why did you let her?”
“I didn’t know till she was too sick. We can’t stop dying.”
I collapsed on the stool next to the stove, sobbing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. Then Mandy’s arms were around me, and I was crying into the ruffles along the neck of her apron, where I had cried so many times before for smaller reasons.
A drop landed on my finger. Mandy was crying too. Her face was red and blotchy.
“I was her fairy godmother too,” Mandy said. “And your grandmother’s.” She blew her nose.
I pushed out of Mandy’s arms for a new look at her. She couldn’t be a fairy. Fairies were thin and young and beautiful. Mandy was as tall as a fairy was supposed to be, but who ever heard of a fairy with frizzy gray hair and two chins?
“Show me,” I demanded.
“Show you what?”
“That you’re a fairy. Disappear or something.”
“I don’t have to show you anything. And—with the exception of Lucinda—fairies never disappear when other creatures are present.”
“We can, but we don’t. Lucinda is the only one who’s rude enough and stupid enough.”
“Why is it stupid?”
“Because it lets people know you’re a fairy.” She started to wash the dishes. “Help me.”
“Do Nathan and Bertha know?” I carried plates to the sink.
“You’re a fairy.”
“Oh, that again. No one knows but you. And you’d better keep it a secret.” Mandy looked her fiercest.
She just scowled.
“I will. I promise. But why?”
“I’ll tell you. People only like the idea of fairies. When they bump up against a particular, real-as-corn fairy, there’s always trouble.” She rinsed a platter. “You dry.”
“Because the dishes are wet, that’s why.” She saw my surprised face. “Oh, why is there trouble? Two reasons, mostly. People know we can do magic, so they want us to solve their problems for them. When we don’t, they get mad. The other reason is we’re immortal. That gets them mad too. Lady wouldn’t speak to me for a week when her father died.”
“Why doesn’t Lucinda care if people know she’s a fairy?”
“She likes them to know, the fool. She wants them to thank her when she gives them one of her awful gifts.”
“Are they always awful?”
“Always. They are always awful, but some people are delighted to have a present from a fairy, even if it makes them miserable.”
“Why did Mother know you’re a fairy? Why do I know?”
“All the Eleanor line are Friends of the Fairies. You have fairy blood in you.”
Fairy blood! “Can I do magic? Shall I live forever? Would Mother have if she hadn’t gotten sick? Are there many Friends of the Fairies?”
“Very few. You’re the only one left in Kyrria. And no, love, you can’t do magic or live forever. It’s just a drop of fairy blood. But there’s one way it has already started to show. Your feet haven’t grown for a few years, I’ll warrant.”
“None of me has grown for a few years.”
“The rest of you will soon enough, but you’ll have fairy feet, like your mother did.” Mandy lifted the hems of her skirt and five petticoats to reveal feet that were no longer than mine. “We’re too tall for our feet. It’s the only thing we can’t change by magic. Our men stuff their shoes so no one can tell, and we ladies hide them under our skirts.”
I stuck a foot out of my gown. Tiny feet were fashionable, but would they make me even clumsier as I grew taller? Would I be able to keep my balance?
“Could you make my feet grow if you wanted to? Or …” I searched for another miracle. Rain pelted the window. “Or could you stop the rain?”
“Do it. Please do it.”
“Why would I want to?”
“For me. I want to see magic. Big magic.”
“We don’t do big magic. Lucinda’s the only one. It’s too dangerous.”
“What’s dangerous about ending a storm?”
“Maybe nothing, maybe something. Use your imagination.”
“Clear skies would be good. People could go outside.”
“Use your imagination,” Mandy repeated.
I thought. “The grass needs rain. The crops need rain.”
“More,” Mandy said.
“Maybe a bandit was going to rob someone, and he isn’t doing it because of the weather.”
“That’s right. Or maybe I’d start a drought, and then I’d have to fix that because I started it. And then maybe the rain I sent would knock down a branch and smash in the roof of a house, and I’d have to
fix that too.”
“That wouldn’t be your fault. The owners should have built a stronger roof.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe I’d cause a flood and people would be killed. That’s the problem with big magic. I only do little magic. Good cooking, my curing soup, my Tonic.”
“When Lucinda cast the spell on me, was that big magic?”
“Of course it was. The numskull!” Mandy scoured a pot so hard that it clattered and banged against the copper sink.
“Tell me how to break the spell. Please, Mandy.”
“I don’t know how. I only know it can be done.”
“If I told Lucinda how terrible it is, would she lift the spell, do you think?”
“I doubt it, but maybe. Then again, she might take away one spell and give you another even worse. The trouble with Lucinda is, ideas pop into her head and come out as spells.”
“What does she look like?”
“Not like the rest of us. But you’d better hope you never lay eyes on her.”
“Where does she live?” I asked. If I could find her, maybe I could persuade her to lift my curse. After all, Mandy could be wrong.
“We’re not on speaking terms. I don’t keep track of the whereabouts of Lucinda the Idiot. Watch that bowl!”
The order came too late. I got the broom. “Are all Friends clumsy?”
“No, sweet. Fairy blood does not make you clumsy. That’s human. You don’t see me dropping plates, do you?”
I started to sweep, but it wasn’t necessary. The pieces of pottery gathered themselves together and flew into the trash bin. I couldn’t believe it.
“That’s about all I do, honey. Small magic that can’t hurt anybody. Handy sometimes, though. No sharp bits left on the floor.”
I stared into the bin. The shards lay there. “Why didn’t you turn it back into a bowl?”
“The magic’s too big. Doesn’t seem like it, but it is. Could hurt someone. You never know.”
“You mean fairies can’t see the future? If you could, you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
“We can’t see the future any more than you can. Only gnomes can, a few of them anyway.”
A bell tinkled somewhere in the house. Father calling one of the servants. Mother never used the bell.