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Kim made
a face, and Lady Wendall laughed. "
Wilson
is quite right. Wizards do not require an
abigail
when
they are on magical business, though of course it is wise to bring one with you
even for most of that. You will become accustomed in time, I am sure."

           
"That
doesn't make any sense," Kim objected. She didn't feel up to explaining
that it was the thought of shopping, and not of being shadowed by a respectable
abigail
, that had made her grimace.

           
"Of
course it doesn't make sense," Lady Wendall said. "The rules of
Society seldom do. One must simply learn them, no matter how little sense they
make."

           
"Oh.
It's exactly the opposite of magic, then."

           
Lady
Wendall laughed. "Yes, I am afraid so. But if you transgress the rules of
Society, you may well find yourself an outcast. Wizardry cannot protect one
from everything." She paused. "I do hope you will try not to err, my
dear. You may not find social ostracism much of a threat, but it would be so
uncomfortable for Richard."

           
Kim
frowned. "You mean that Mrs. Lowe was right?"

           
"I doubt
it," Lady Wendall murmured.
"Right about
what?"

           
"About
how
me
being his ward makes him look bad to the
nobs."

           
"Not at all.
It is a minor eccentricity on his part,
but wizards are allowed considerably more freedom in some regards than most
people. Were you to create a great scandal--if you eloped to
Gretna
Green
or attempted to turn His Highness into a toad--that would
certainly reflect on Richard, the same as if his brother or I were to do such a
thing.
I don't think you need to worry too much, however.
A little common sense is really all that is needed."

           
Maybe
that's all it takes for you,
Kim thought, but she held her peace. Lady
Wendall was trying to be reassuring, but Kim could not help feeling that she
would be facing less obvious pitfalls than a runaway marriage or a misdirected
spell.

           
Lady
Wendall smiled. "Now, if you will put on your green walking dress, we will
proceed to Madame Chandelaine's to procure you a proper wardrobe."

           
With a
sigh, Kim nodded. She let
Wilson
dress her and arrange her hair,
then
joined Lady
Wendall. She was still considering Lady Wendall's comments, and wondering
whether the whole come-out business wasn't really a mistake after all, and so
they had almost reached Madame Chandelaine's before she thought to ask whether
Renee would be accompanying them.

           
"Mademoiselle
D'Auber is to meet us at Madame's," Lady Wendall told Kim. "We will
have a certain amount of time to talk while you are being fitted, but I warn
you that Madame is an inveterate gossip. If you do not wish to find the whole
of
London
discussing your affairs,
you will have to watch what you say."

           
When they
arrived, they were ushered immediately into a private room at the back of the
establishment. Renee was already there, engaged in a spirited conversation with
a black-haired woman of formidable proportions. Unfortunately, the conversation
was in French, so Kim did not understand a word. Lady Wendall greeted the two
in the same language, and for a moment Kim was afraid that all three of them
would speak French for the entire afternoon. After her greeting, however, Lady
Wendall returned to English and said, "Has Mademoiselle D'Auber explained
our requirements, Madame?"

           
"A
wardrobe for the young lady, I believe?" The formidable Frenchwoman
studied Kim with a critical eye.

           
Lady
Wendall nodded. "Garments suitable for my son's ward,
whom
I shall be presenting this Season.
And also suitable for an
apprentice wizard, recognized by the
Royal
College
, who
is having her first Season."

           
"A wizard in her first Season?"
Madame's gaze
sharpened with curiosity and interest.

           
"It
is not at all uncommon for wizards to enjoy the Season," Mademoiselle
D'Auber pointed out gently.

           
"It
is, however, uncommon for the young ladies to admit that they are
wizards--especially in their first Season," Madame said. "It is not a
thing the Mamas believe is of help in catching a husband. Last Season, I had
the dressing of only two such; this Season, none at all."

           
"My
son's ward is uncommon," Lady Wendall said. "In fact, her antecedents
are somewhat . . . unusual."

           
"Wizards
are always unusual." Madame waved dismissively. "But of a certainty,
they do not always admit it. I will find it a pleasure to have the dressing of
one who does. Turn around, Mademoiselle, if you please."

           
Kim
complied.

           
"Charming,"
Madame said.
"Entirely charming.
It will be well,
I think. Elspeth! The green-figured
muslin,
and the
yellow silk. And the
China
blue crepe."

           
"Not
yellow," Renee put in firmly. "For Kim, it is a color entirely
unbecoming."

           
"So?"
Madame studied Kim a moment, frowning. "Yes, yes, I see.
The white sarcenet, then, and the lilac.
What will she be
doing for her display?
Roses?"

           
"We
have not yet decided," Lady Wendall said. "I can assure
you,
however, it will not be anything so usual."

           
"Display?"
Kim said, her head already spinning
from the talk of so many colors and fabrics. "What display?"

           
"If
you wish me to design a dress for her presentation ball, I must know what
illusion she is to perform," Madame said. "Something in peach would
be well with Mademoiselle's coloring, but not if she is to perform red roses or
a fire."

           
"Perform?"
Kim said, now thoroughly alarmed.
"What do you mean,
perform?"

           
"We
will leave the dress for her ball until later," Lady Wendall informed
Madame. "There are still three weeks before it will be needed." She
turned to Kim. "It is customary, on those occasions when a wizard is being
presented, for her to perform some magical illusion with her magic tutor before
she opens the dancing. Climbing roses have been very popular in the last few
years, though in the Season following
Waterloo
a Miss Taldworth attempted an image of Napoleon surrendering his sword. She did
a very bad job of it, quite apart from the fundamental inaccuracy of the image,
and it was an
on dit
for weeks. Since then everyone has kept to things
that are simpler."

           
"Or
they avoid it entirely," Renee said. "The Mamas, they presented last
year more than two young ladies who were wizards, I think."

           
"You
mean I'm going to have to do a spell in front of a bunch of
toffs
?"
Kim said, outraged that no one had mentioned this before she had agreed to this
come-out.

           
"Yes,
exactly," Lady Wendall said serenely. "You and Richard have plenty of
time to design something that will reflect your unique background, as well as
demonstrating your abilities as a wizard. I am looking forward to seeing what
you decide upon."

           
"I
could pick everyone's pockets at once with magic," Kim said, still
disgruntled. "That'd 'reflect my unique background,' all right."

           
Lady
Wendall considered. "I don't think so. Unless Richard has been pushing you
far harder than he ought, spells of that magnitude and scope are still beyond
your abilities. An illusion along those lines, however, would be just the
thing. You must discuss it with him when we get home."

           
A
teetering pile of fabric bolts, supported by Madame's young assistant,
staggered into the room.
"Ah, Elspeth!"
Madame said. "On the table, if you please. Now, Mademoiselle . . ."

           
Kim spent
the next several hours being measured, draped, fitted, and paraded before the
critical eyes of Lady Wendall, Renee D'Auber, and Madame Chandelaine in a
variety of dresses. Lady Wendall began by ordering a cream walking dress that
needed only to be shortened and a morning dress in the green-figured muslin,
both to be delivered on the morrow. After that, she became more particular,
choosing a sleeve from this dress and a flounce from that one, to be combined
with a different bodice and a fuller skirt. Renee added advice and suggestions
of her own, and Madame also put in a word from time to time. No one asked for
Kim's opinion.

           
The
number and cost of the dresses appalled Kim. Lady Wendall's idea of an
acceptable wardrobe was considerably more lavish than Mairelon's or Mrs.
Lowe's; in her days on the street, Kim could have lived comfortably for two
years on the price of a single walking dress. The ball gowns were naturally
much worse, and there were far more of them than Kim could imagine ever
needing. But both Lady Wendall and Renee D'Auber looked at her in complete incomprehension
when she tried to explain her objections, so eventually she gave up and let
them do as they wished.

           
When they
had finished negotiating with Madame, there were more things to be purchased
elsewhere: gloves, bonnets, stockings, slippers, and all manner of other small
items. By the time they returned to
Grosvenor Square
at last, they were laden with packages and Kim was exhausted. Even Mrs. Lowe's
disapproving comments over dinner failed to penetrate her fatigue. She fell
into bed that night, thankful that at least the shopping part was done with.

9

           
Kim
discovered her mistake over the course of the next week. Not only was the
shopping not done with, there were an enormous number of preparations necessary
for the ball Lady Wendall proposed to hold. Everything, it seemed, had to be
done immediately, beginning with writing out and sending invitations to some
four hundred persons of Lady Wendall's acquaintance. Kim's poor handwriting
kept her from helping with that chore, but plenty of other things needed to be
done.

           
Her magic
lessons were a welcome break from the sudden plunge into social arrangements.
Mairelon had begun focusing more on specific spells, which Kim found far more
interesting than the dry tomes full of jaw-breaking foreign languages that she
had been studying earlier. When she thought about it, she realized that she was
learning a great deal of magical theory along with the practical specifics of
the spells they reviewed together, but working with Mairelon made theory
intriguing instead of dull.

           
In the
evenings, Mairelon gave her dancing lessons, while Lady Wendall played the
pianoforte. Kim picked up the patterns of the country dances very quickly, but
waltzing made her nervous. For too many years, she had carefully avoided
getting near people, for fear they would discover that she was not the boy she
had pretended to be. Allowing anyone, even Mairelon, not only to come close,
but to circle her waist with his arm brought back old fears, though she had to
admit that the sensation was pleasurable on those rare occasions when she could
relax enough to enjoy it.

           
The
mysterious burglar did not reappear, for which Kim could only be thankful.
Between shopping, preparations for the ball, and lessons in magic, dancing, and
etiquette, her days were too full to admit any additional activities. It was
almost a relief when Lady Wendall announced over dinner that they would be
spending the following evening at the opera.

           
"Most
of your gowns have arrived, so you will be sure of making a good appearance,"
Lady Wendall said.

           
Mrs. Lowe
looked up. "You will understand, I am sure, if I do not choose to join
you."

           
"Of
course," Lady Wendall said. "Though I think you refine too much on
Kim's misadventure at Mrs. Hardcastle's."

           
"Nonetheless,
I prefer a peaceful evening at home to the . . . uncertainties of a public
appearance at this time."

           
"Nonsense,
Aunt!" Mairelon said. "What can happen at the opera? You go, you sit
in a box and listen to a lot of caterwauling, you wave at other people during
the interval, and you come home."

           
"I
sincerely hope that your evening will be as unexceptionable as you say,"
Mrs. Lowe said. "But I remain at home."

           
"In
that case, I shall invite Renee D'Auber to accompany us," Lady Wendall
said.

           
The whole
thing sounded less than appealing to Kim, but she had agreed to this come-out
business, and she would see it through. Her misgivings increased when Wilson,
the
abigail
, helped her get ready. Apart from
fittings, it was the first time Kim had worn formal evening dress. The apricot
crepe hung smoothly over the matching satin slip, but she was not at all sure
she could walk without stepping on the deep flounce of blond lace that trimmed
the hem. The bodice was fashionably tight and low cut--too low cut, Kim
thought. Her shoulders and breasts felt decidedly exposed. It hadn't seemed
nearly as skimpy during the fittings. A thin scarf woven with gold threads did
little to mend matters. Feeling nervous, Kim went down to join the others.

           
"Excellent,"
Lady Wendall said as Kim came down the stairs. "That color is
perfect."

           
"I'm
sorry I kept you waiting," Kim said. Lady Wendall's dress was at least as
low cut as hers, and the drape of lace trim that fell over the dark green silk
of the bodice made it look even more precarious.

           
"It's
only to be expected," Mairelon said. "It always takes longer to put
on a costume the first time."

           
"Richard!"
said his mother. "You are talking as if we were going to a masquerade
instead of the opera."

           
"Am
I?" Mairelon said vaguely. "Ah, well. Hadn't we better be
going?"

           
Lady
Wendall rolled her eyes and took Mairelon's arm.
But Mairelon is right,
thought Kim as she followed them out to the carriage.
It is a costume, and I
am only playing a part, the same way I played the part of a boy for so long.
The thought was depressing; it made her wonder whether she would have to play
at being something other than what she was for all her life.
But what am I,
if I stop playing parts?
She shivered and thrust the thought away.
This
part was what mattered tonight, dispiriting as it might be. And on top of
everything, Mairelon hadn't even said that she looked nice.

           
Her
depression lifted when they entered the opera house. The ornate foyer was
crowded with toffs. Most of the men wore dark coats and pantaloons; the younger
women wore muslin gowns in soft colors; and the older ones wore silks, velvets,
and a profusion of jewels that almost made Kim regret having given up thieving.
Lady Wendall, Renee, and Mairelon seemed in no hurry to reach their box. They
moved slowly through the crowd, greeting acquaintances, chatting with friends,
and introducing Kim to more people than she could possibly remember.

           
Eventually,
they reached the box, but this only set off another round of socializing as
people in other boxes saw them and left their places to come and visit. Kim was
not at all sure how they decided who stayed in a box and who came to visit, but
there had to be some sort of system, or too many people would pass each other
in the hall.

           
After
what seemed hours, the traffic lessened and a few people began to take their
seats in preparation for the overture. Many, however, continued talking and
visiting despite the music. As the curtain rose, Kim noticed a slender young
man watching them from the opposite box. She leaned over to mention this to
Lady Wendall, but was frowned into silence. The show began.

           
On the
whole, Kim decided, opera compared favorably with the puppet shows, hurdy-gurdy
men, and balladeers of the marketplaces. The actors had better costumes, and
everybody sang on key, and every so often a thoroughly implausible fight would
erupt, with lots of leaping about and everyone still singing at the top of
their lungs. On the other hand, she couldn't understand a word of it, and
without the words, the actions didn't make much sense. She wasn't entirely
convinced they were supposed to. It didn't seem to matter to anyone else; most
of the audience was more interested in talking to each other or observing the
toffs in the boxes than in the events on stage.

           
Halfway
through the first act, Kim felt the unmistakable tingling sensation that
heralded a spell in process. She stiffened, and looked around for the wizard,
noting absently that Mairelon, Lady Wendall, and Renee D'Auber were doing the
same. No one else seemed to notice; on stage, the opera continued forward
without pause, and the audience was as rapt as they had ever been, which was
not much. Mairelon spoke two rapid sentences in a low voice, and the tingling
intensified. Then, abruptly, the feeling vanished.

           
Kim
wanted desperately to question Mairelon, but again Lady Wendall gestured to
forbid speech. Renee, Mairelon, and Lady Wendall continued watching the
performance with outward calm, while Kim shifted restlessly in her seat for the
rest of the act. As the curtain closed and the stage crew rushed to replace the
candles in the giant candelabra that provided light to the stage, she turned to
Mairelon and demanded, "What was that?"

           
"A
scrying spell, I think," Mairelon said. "Someone wanted to know where
we were."

           
"You
think
?" Renee said, lifting her eyebrows.

           
"The
spell had an unusual construction. It was similar to the basic look-and-see
spell everyone learns as an apprentice, but it wasn't identical by any
means." He smiled. "It will be interesting to see who turns up during
the interval."

           
An
expression of mild relief crossed Lady Wendall's face. "You think that's
all--oh, good evening, Lady Lidestone. Allow me to present my son's apprentice
and ward, Miss Kim Merrill."

           
Kim rose
and bobbed a curtsey as an elderly woman in a purple turban entered the box.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Lidestone," she
murmured.

           
Lady
Lidestone raised a gold lorgnette and studied Kim. "Better than I had been
led to believe," she pronounced after a moment. "So you really do intend
to introduce her to Society,
Elizabeth
?"

           
"Of
course," Lady Wendall said. "It will add a bit of spice to this
year's Season."

           
Lady
Lidestone gave a crack of laughter. "You always have been one for spice.
I'll look forward to more entertainment than I've had in a long while."
She gave a nod of approval that included Kim, and moved on.

           
She was
replaced almost at once by a tongue-tied young woman and her Mama, who had
ostensibly come to give their regards to Lady Wendall, but who seemed far more
interested in being presented to Mairelon. They were followed by several
amiable young men who wished to pay their respects to Renee, and the box began
to seem more than a little full. Kim frowned, feeling hot and a little dizzy
but not knowing quite what to do about it.

           
"You're
looking a bit overheated," Mairelon's voice said in her ear. "I
believe we should take a turn in the corridor."

           
Kim
jumped,
then
nodded gratefully. With a few words,
Mairelon extricated them from the polite conversation, and a moment later they
were in the relative cool and quiet of the corridor.

           
"That's
a relief," Kim said with a sigh as they walked toward the foyer.

           
Mairelon
raised an eyebrow in inquiry.

           
"This
is all . . . it's just . . . it's so
much
," she said.

           
"A bit overwhelming?"
Mairelon said, nodding in
understanding. "You'll become accustomed."

           
"Maybe,"
Kim said dubiously.

           
They
walked in companionable silence to the foyer, nodding in passing to several
people on their way to visit boxes. The foyer was, once again, full of toffs
and the scent of candle smoke. They stood in the doorway for a moment, watching
as people surged and shifted, then moved sideways to stand against the wall and
out of the traffic.

           
A few
enterprising vendors had slipped into the opera house with baskets of fruit or
comfits to sell to the toffs; one had even managed a tray of steaming drinks.
Kim watched in professional admiration as he maneuvered through the crowd
without spilling a drop. His customers were not always so fortunate; even as
she watched, someone jostled a tall gentleman holding one of the drinks. The
liquid sloshed over the rim of the mug and over his hands and sleeves. Cursing,
the man set the mug on the vendor's tray and stripped off his gloves. As he
scrubbed uselessly at his sleeve, light gleamed on a gold ring carved in the
shape of a flower with a red stone in the center.

           
Kim
clutched at Mairelon's arm.
"Mairelon!
That toff
burglar's here. Or somebody with a ring
like
his,
anyways. Over there!"

           
Without
hesitation, Mairelon shook off her hand and plunged into the crowd. Kim tried
to keep the burglar in sight, but the constant motion of the crowd made it
impossible.
If I'd known it was him sooner, I could have gotten a look at
his face. Oh, well, maybe Mairelon will catch him.
But she knew that under
these conditions, it would be the sheerest luck if he did.
At least now I
know he's got light hair. I wish I could have seen his face, though.
She
backed up to avoid being stepped on by a portly gentleman in a very great
hurry, and bumped into someone standing behind her.

           
"Excuse
me," she began, turning, and stopped short. Looking down at her was an
impressively handsome man with sandy-brown hair and warm brown eyes. He
appeared to be in his early thirties, and his clothes proclaimed him very
well-inlaid. Without thinking, Kim glanced down at his hands, and was
unreasonably relieved to see that he was not wearing a ring.
He can't be the
cove Mairelon's chasing, anyway--he couldn't have gotten here from over there,
not this fast.

           
"It
was my fault entirely, Mademoiselle, and I beg your pardon," the man said,
bowing. His voice was deep and faintly accented, but all Kim was certain of was
that he was not French. He straightened and smiled. "We appear to have no
one to make proper introductions. Permit me to be incorrect. I am Alexei
Nicholaiovitch Durmontov."

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