I washed again in my wagon, dipping a rag in lukewarm water and running it along my limbs and body. I put on my shift then sat and looked into my little mirror. What to do with my hair? I turned my head to one side then the other. I had no skill at hair dressing. I wore my hair in a braid, usually, under a kerchief, to keep the dust from it. I heard another knock on my wagon door.
“Delia, it’s Hilda. Master Corbet bid me come to you to dress your hair.”
I stepped to the door. “Come in, Hilda. Thank you.”
The woman climbed the steps and entered. She gasped at the sight of the dress spread across my bunk. “Oh, my.”
“Indeed. I can hardly believe it myself.”
She gave herself a little shake. “Put it on. I don’t want to drag it over your hair once it’s done.”
My initial thought was that she just wanted to see me in the dress but I thought better of it. It would damage her work if I waited. I nodded and moved to the bunk. I hardly dared pick the dress up.
“Let me help,” Hilda offered.
She turned the dress over and unlaced the back. Hilda stood in front of me, holding the dress open so I could step into it. “I suppose I didn’t have to drag it over your hair after all.” She stepped behind me and laced it back up.
The dress rested just barely on my shoulders in narrow straps, then swept down in front, just over my breasts to a point just above my belly button. In the back, it came down between my shoulder blades to the middle of my back. It was sleeveless. I hardly understood how it remained on my body.
Hilda sighed in awe. “Just beautiful.” She grinned at me. “Sit. I’ll do you hair.” She combed and braided and worked with the few pins and ribbons I had until she was satisfied. I looked in the mirror. My hair was piled on top of my head in a tower I could hardly believe. Locks of hair dropped from one or two places, one attractively over my right shoulder, the other, twisting down my back.
“One more thing.” I lifted the necklace out of my writing box where I’d hidden it. Hilda’s hands flew up to cover her mouth. “I’m to wear this.”
Slowly, her hand reached out to take the gleaming fantasy from my hands. Carefully she draped it around my neck and fastened it in the back. The necklace covered much of my bare chest and the final sapphire rested between my breasts. I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror.
“You look like a princess,” Hilda whispered.
I had to agree with her. I reached into my box and pulled out a silver coin. “For dressing my hair, Hilda.”
She hesitated then held out her hand. I dropped the coin into it. As much as I valued my hoard of coin, I expected she’d never had so much for herself in her life. She ducked her head up and down as thank you’s flooded from her mouth. “You deserve it, Hilda. Go. Enjoy a treat for yourself.”
I opened the door and ushered her from the wagon, still calling out thank you to me. I closed the door. Master Corpet would be hear soon. I studied as much of myself in the mirror as I could in the tiny glass. It seemed as though I should have some sort of shawl but nothing I owned was fine enough to finish this ensemble.
I heard Corbet call out from outside. I took a breath and blew out the lamp. When I opened the door, Sam gasped from behind his master. I stood up, chin high. Master Corpet nodded. “Well done.”
I stepped down from the wagon. Master Corpet pulled a length of blue gauzy material from behind him and draped it over my shoulders. “Perfect.” He took a moment to admire the effect, then turned. “Sam. Open the carriage door.”
Sam gawped a moment more then ran to the caravanserai gate. Outside waited a fine covered carriage with four matching black horses to draw it. Same held the door while Master Corpet handed me inside. He followed, then Sam, who sat on the bench opposite us. Corpet knocked on the wall of the carriage and we were off.
We drew up to Lord Trayford’s palace and a palace servant stepped forward to open the door. Sam got out to help Master Corpet down and Master Corpet gave me his hand to descend. Corpet tucked my hand into the crook of his left arm and guided me through the opulently carved and painted double doors. At the door, a servant called out, Caravan Master Corpet and friend over the music wafting out of the doors from an orchestra on the balcony above facing the door.
Two servants stood on either side of the door with trays of narrow crystal glasses filled with something bubbly. “Champagne, Madame,” one of the servants asked. “I shook my head. I didn’t want to be mush-brained tonight. I had no idea why I was here and didn’t want to risk becoming stupid.”
“Don’t be shy, Delia.” Corpet took a glass from the tray and handed it to me. “I can feel you trembling. It will help.” Once I took it, he took one for himself and guided me into the center of the room.
I sipped out of sheer terror. It felt to me that everyone in the room was staring. Then it occurred to me. My ears. My pointed ears were in full view. I had all I could do to keep a grip on the slender glass my hands were so weak. The glass empty, a servant collected it, offering another. Fortunately, Master Corpet was speaking with a man we’d come across so he didn’t insist I take another when I refused.
“Delia. This is Lord Traford’s son, Alexis.”
I curtsied, my eyes downcast. “Lord Traford.”
“Rise, please.” He grinned at Corpet like a boy at his nameday gifts. “She is just delightful.”
“Thank you, my lord. You will be joining your father and I later this evening?”
Alexis clapped Corpet on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t miss it.” He raised his glass to me. “So wonderful to finally meet you, Delia.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what else to do. What did he mean, finally meet me? After that, Corpet moved from one man to another, some with their wives on their arms, some without. He introduced me to each person. I did my best to memorize all of the names and faces and lineages. At last a servant called us in to dinner. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I was going to have to make casual conversation with the people around me. I had nothing in common with them and I was already exhausted. Corpet patted my hand on his arm. “You’re doing wonderfully, Delia.
Thank You! Come back next week for Part 4.