Being dressed by someone else now felt strange in a way it never had before. Alicia found herself acutely aware of the fact that, outside of a sleeping gown, she had practically never put her clothes on herself without any assistance. This somehow seemed terribly upsetting, although she couldn’t quite place why. Was it shame about not being able to perform what should be a common task, or humiliation at being so dependent on someone else for every facet of her life?
Of course, she could also recognize that it wasn’t a completely fair comparison. She recognized that the feelings was coming from her other memories--she shoved the thought away, not ready to deal with that can of worms quite yet--but the clothes that she had to wear as the daughter of a duke were considerably more involved and complex than jeans and a t-shirt. The exact set of clothes depended on the occasion, but given that royalty would be visiting later, there was no choice but to go all out. That meant: black stockings, drawers, a plain decency skirt to cover the drawers, a white chemise that hung down to her knees, and all that was only the undergarments that the prince would never see. Over that went her whalebone corset, tied tight in the back by Lucille’s practiced hands, and then a hoop crinoline that would support the bell-shaped skirt of the dress, and of course the camisole to cover the corset and the petticoat over the crinoline, protecting the expensive fabric of the dress. Once all that was in place and Alicia already felt almost completely immobile, Lucille helped her into the dress itself, this time composed of an elegant baby blue bodice and a matching skirt. To finish it all, Lucille applied white gloves that reached up to Alicia’s elbows and laced up blue patent-leather ankle boots that complimented her dress.
It was, in short, a total production; one that took upwards of half an hour to complete, and that only due to Lucille’s competence. Even on days where she could afford to dress less formally, which meant wearing a shapeless tea gown that allowed her to be liberated from the tyranny of corset and crinoline, it still took fifteen minutes, and she had still never dressed without her maid’s assistance. It was a humbling thought, which was strange as well. While Alicia was intimately acquainted with shame and humiliation, humility itself was quite foreign.
Lucille had just finished lacing up the boots. One of the nice things about the whole production of it all was that it gave Alicia time to think, which she sorely needed.
“There you are, my lady,” Lucille said, with a cheery smile. Her eyes still had dark circles under them, even after a night’s sleep. “I’m sure that Prince Alsander will be completely smitten.”
“Thank you, Lucille,” she said. She chose to ignore the look of surprise on her maid’s face. “Did you ever find that missing brooch, by any chance?”
“I did indeed, my lady,” Lucille replied. “Would you like to wear it today?”
“It would only be appropriate,” Alicia said. She moved to the dressing table at the side of the room and sat down on the backless chair. Her back was held rigid both from a sense of propriety and necessity, as the corset held the shape. A large mirror attached to the dressing table showed her reflection, a young girl wearing the trappings of a lady. Her face was set in a harsh slant and even at rest seemed to project a degree of superiority and scorn. She knew that she was beautiful--it was an established fact, and she was not blind to her own qualities--but it was a distant beauty, cold and unapproachable. For the first time, she considered if that might be a bad thing.
The longer she stared into the mirror, the more that Alicia felt a strange disconnect between her and the image in the glass. It was like she was half-expecting to see a different face, older and more plain but with kinder eyes and darker skin. The face staring back at her seemed so young now. It wasn’t so much that she hadn’t realized that she was young before, but she had always felt much older in comparison to Lewis. Suddenly she was aware of just how young both of them were.
Lucille returned with the brooch and carefully pinned it to the top of Alicia’s dress, just below her neck. “I imagine the prince will be glad to see you wearing it.” The maid began the last step of getting Alicia ready, gathering the girl’s hair and shaping it into a braid.
“I hope so,” Alicia replied. She reached up and touched the ornament. “Where did you find it?”
In the mirror, Alicia could see Lucille looking down. “It was still affixed to one of your dresses, my lady. I don’t know how the laundress missed it, but I’ve already given her a stern talking to.”
It was so easy to tell that her maid was lying; skills that had been honed over decades of work and relationships made it clear as day. Alicia considered pushing the issue, but she knew it was unlikely that Lucille would admit to the lie. The question really was, who was she protecting?
Instead, Alicia just gave a hum of acknowledgement. “Do you know when the prince will arrive?”
“I’m not sure. I imagine it will be early this afternoon, although it all depends on which trains are running from Ludestre.” The maid picked up a dark blue ribbon and tied it into a bow at the end of the braid. “In any event, it won’t be this morning, so you should go and see Ms. Hartwright.”
It was only through all her etiquette training that Alicia resisted the urge to groan.
Breakfast ended up being a lonely affair, as usual. Her father and brother practiced swordplay in the early morning, which meant they usually ate before she was even awake, and the Duchess preferred to not break her fast until the midday luncheon. Alicia sat alone at her customary place in the dining room. She found herself more aware of the opulence of the room: the intricate wallpaper printed with all manner of floral designs, the polished mahogany of the beautifully crafted table, the plush upholstered chairs dyed in the Senius colors of navy and black, the silverware and plates cast from actual silver and ornamented with gilt. It was not that she had been unaware of these details before, but intrusive memories of cramped apartments and half-broken furniture cast her position into stark relief. For the first time, she realized that she just as easily could have been born a low-class peasant, and she offered a small prayer of gratitude to the Nine-faced God.
The meal was fairly simple, buttered crumpets with fried eggs and a sausage, and she was finished fairly quickly. Technically she did not have a strict schedule, but she knew that her governess would be displeased if Alicia kept her waiting much longer. Alicia dreaded the displeasure of Miss Hartwright; the governess never showed her frustration, but it would come out in the form of sudden lessons on propriety, etiquette, or (if Alicia had really irritated the woman) difficult arithmetic. Afterall, Alicia spent more time with the woman than anyone else, with the possible exception of Lucille, and she had developed a healthy respect for the unassuming woman.
They met in the family’s library, a tall room in the ground floor of the East wing of the estate. The walls were covered in shelves, each one holding books bound in vellum and intricately stitched cloth. They were arranged according to some arcane system that Alicia had never learned, but Miss Hartwright seemed to know them all by heart and was capable of plucking a relevant book from a shelf without ever seeming to check the title. Indeed, at times Alicia suspected that the woman lived in the library, even when she was not involved in teaching. The governess was already there when Alicia entered, sitting at the table by the window and paging through a large tome. She stood up and gave a slight bow as the young lady entered.
“Congratulations on your Blooming, Lady Alicia,” the governess said, gesturing to the other seat at the table. “Please, take a seat.”
“Thank you, Miss Hartwright,” Alicia replied. She sat down, discreetly trying to peek at the book that her governess had been reading; she caught the words ‘electromagnolic fields’ and ‘luminiferous aether’ before Miss Hartwright shut the book and set it to the side.
“I trust that you are feeling better,” Miss Hartwright said, returning to her own seat across from the girl.
“Yes, quite better,” Alicia said. “Are you going to teach me to use magnolic energy now?”
The woman seemed to frown for an instant, and then it was replaced by her usual expression, professional and neutral. “Dr. Hadwick believes that you ought not attempt to use magnolic energy for two weeks, to give your cardiothaumic system time to fully heal. In this instance, I tend to agree with him. In the meantime, we may as well use the time to work on something else.” From a small drawer in the table, she retrieved several sheets of pressed paper, a bottle of ink, and a steel fountain pen and set them in front of the girl.
Alicia eyed the paper with a familiar feeling of trepidation. For weeks now, she had been telling herself that Blooming would give her a reprieve from the monotony of historical accounts and lectures on posture. “Then what will we be working on today?”
“Well, I think you would most benefit from either Farcouis verb declensions or some light arithmetic,” Miss Hartwright said. “However, I will leave the choice up to you.”
Alicia pulled a face. “That’s like asking me to choose whether I want to be burned at the stake or just hanged.”
“That’s quite a morbid metaphor,” Miss Hartwright responded, eyebrows raised. Still, Alicia had dug this hole, she might as well lie in it.
“The suffering is the same, I think,” she said.
“And which would you prefer, then?” Miss Hartwright asked.
Alicia tilted her head to the side, thinking about it for a moment. “Well, I suppose being hanged would be far less painful.”
“Arithmetic it is,” Miss Hartwright said in a dry deadpan, but her eyes were smiling. It seemed like she was in a good mood today. She stood up and pulled out a book with a familiar red binding, one Alicia recognized as A Practical Guide to Arithmetic and Algebraic Expression; Made Plain and Simple by the Application of Intuitive Rules. “How about I give you a few problems, and you try to work them out.”
Reluctantly, Alicia uncapped the pen and dipped it into the inkwell. She wondered for a moment at how the ink was drawn up into the reservoir, and then the phrase ‘capillary action’ entered her mind and she understood.
“If I have nine shill, and an apple costs three pawnings a piece, how many apples could I buy?”
Alicia thought for a moment. She knew it was one shill to nine pawnings, which meant that one shill could get her three apples. Then it was just 9 times 3, which she could easily do in her head. “Twenty-seven apples.”
“Correct,” Miss Hartwright replied, and for a moment Alicia fancied that the woman looked surprised. “Let us try a harder one, then. If 16 yards of silk is worth 5 sterling, how much would 144 yards be worth?”
Another easy one--144 divided by 16 was nine, and nine by five gave-- “Forty-five sterling,” she said. And then, since a sterling was nine shill, and since she usually struggled with arithmetic and it was a joy to have it so clear in her mind, she added on, “or four hundred and five shill.”
This time she definitely saw Miss Hartwright’s eyes widen for a moment. Then it was gone, and the mask of professional distance returned. “If I put one hundred sterling in Ludestre bank, and I can expect a yield of five percent, how much will I have in five years time?”
This one was trickier, and Alicia had to reach back to remember the equations for interest. “Continual compounding or annually?”
“Let us say annually compounding,” Miss Hartwright replied.
For the first time, she had to put her pen to the page. It took her a bit, this time; she had to manually multiply 1.05 times itself five times, and then at the end multiply back in the initial investment. The equations on the page rapidly got out of hand, almost immediately requiring some judicial rounding, and her writing with the fountain tip was messier than it would have been with a ballpoint. Still, after a few minutes, she felt reasonably sure that she had solved it. “About 127 sterling. 127 sterling, 5 shill, and some change.”
Miss Hartwright was quiet for a moment, a moment that seemed to stretch out for far too long. Alicia became aware that something was wrong.
“Lady Alicia, I believe our time may actually be better spent doing those verb declensions,” the governess said at last.
“Was that not correct?” Alicia asked, looking back at her work; she was almost positive that she had solved the problem.
“No, it was quite correct. However, your newfound eagerness toward arithmetic suggests a fear of Francouis declension that it is my duty to ease.”
This logic seemed strange, and Alicia almost complained, but then it suddenly clicked. The arithmetic hadn’t been easier than usual; it had only felt that way since the other memories were so used to it. Despite her attempts to hide it from the doctor, she had immediately revealed the secret to her governess. She felt her face grow pale as she began to realize the magnitude of her error.
“Don’t worry, my lady, I assure you that Francouis is really not that bad,” Miss Hartwright said, misinterpreting the young lady’s expression.
To make matters worse, it turned out that the other memories were no help here; Christine had been just as bad with languages as Alicia herself. Between all the past, preterite, imperfect, conditional, and pluperfect forms, she had little time to worry about her mistake, or indeed to think about anything other than the attempt to memorize as many new conjugations as she could. She wanted to complain that she had just been forced to hold a whole life of memories two days back, and anything more now was surely asking too much; but of course that was impossible.
As a result, it was almost welcome news when Lucille interrupted the lessons to inform Alicia that Prince Alsander had arrived.