Attendant Again
The day after the next, Elaine gets an unfortunate surprise. She's minding her own business, back to dishes once again, when one of the other serving girls approaches her again.
It's Susanna this time; a girl a bit above Elaine's level who tends to be assigned to waiting on more important ladies or tending to children. Susanna is the type who has a sweet face but a big mouth, and everyone knows she has a propensity for gossip. Elaine doesn't exactly like her. Mostly because of that.
"Can I help you?" she asks blankly as she scrubs at a spot of dried-on food stuck to a spoon.
"Um, yes, actually. You have another job to do. I was sent to tell you that you're to be attending to that noble girl again. And you need to go to her right now."
Elaine almost chokes. She does drop the spoon.
"You heard me. She asked for you. I think her name was Regina? One of the upper maids told me that she asked for you, specifically, so it's your job to see to her," Susanna explains. She looks vaguely frustrated. "I don't know why it's you. You wouldn't even talk about it last time! I wanted to know what she's like..." The way she trails off dreamily makes Elaine sick.
"So I'm supposed to just drop the dishes and go?" she asks bluntly. "It's that immediate?"
"Mhmm. The lady asked for you by name, so you'd better hurry up before she gets mad. The others who've seen her say that she's scary. It's true, right?" Susanna asks with excitement. "She's so pretty that it's scary?"
"I need to get going," is all Elaine says. She places the half-clean spoon to the side and wipes her hands on her apron. She still has the cleaner one she was given last time she dealt with Regina.
Ignoring Susanna's protests behind her, Elaine leaves the kitchen and hurries to her room to grab the clean apron. She ties her hair back again while she's at it, just because it feels like the smart thing to do. Glancing at herself in the mirror, Elaine feels stupid, but stupid is better than sloppy.
She finds one of the older maids and asks where she's supposed to go, then. The woman directs her to a formerly-unused room that Elaine's only been in once or twice to clean. Strange. She can't think of why Regina would be somewhere like that, but it's not exactly her business, either. All she has to do is show up and do what the lady tells her to.
So Elaine gets there as quickly as she can without ending up out of breath. Standing outside the thick, solid door, she knocks.
"May I enter, my lady?" Ugh, she doesn't want to do this.
"Yes. Please, come in," comes Regina's voice from inside.
And when she opens the door, she's face-to-face with supplies. For what, she's not exactly sure, but they look complicated and magic-related, and staring at the piles of things strewn about tables that weren't there before makes Elaine gulp. There are a lot of bottles, boxes, and small, cloth bags.
Regina is in the middle of it all. Her dress today is a deep, vivid blue trimmed with red and gold jacquard ribbon, and her hair is done even more ornately than before— fully held out of her face.
She looks up from the bottles she's organizing and meets Elaine's eyes. "Hello again," she says cheerfully. "It's nice to see you, Elaine. I'm glad that my request went through."
Internally, Elaine grimaces. Great. Regina's either gotten attached to her or has decided that tormenting a poor servant is an entertaining pastime. Neither option sounds particularly pleasant. Whatever the reason is, though, Elaine has no option but to be polite. All she can do is keep her mouth shut and do as Regina tells her to.
"It's nice to see you as well, my lady. What will I be assisting you with today?" Better to get it over with.
"Oh, it's simple. I'm setting up a workshop so I can practice my magic while I'm here. It won't be anywhere near as complex as the one I have back home, but I'd like to at least have the basics together," she explains, moving a glass bottle filled with dark, dried leaves as she does. "It gives me something to do while I'm here, and I'd hate to get rusty during my visit."
"Um... what kind of magic do you use, my lady?" Elaine asks without quite thinking it through. She mentally smacks herself for saying it, but... a part of her is curious.
Considering her own pathetic and secretive brand of magic, Elaine, well, she wants to compare. Maybe Regina is worse than even her. It's a far-fetched idea and completely unlikely to be true, but Elaine still distantly hopes. Maybe she'll have one advantage. Regina's certainly been trained and this set-up is beyond complex, but perhaps there's a reason behind her desire to practice so much. The jealousy is eating Elaine alive, and she hates it. She doesn't want to think of these things anymore—
"Potions," Regina says simply. "Poisons, mostly. I've always been good with them. I can make ones with all kinds of effects, and although they haven't been tested on people... I can assure you that my best work is impossible to detect and quite lethal."
She says all of it with a smile that makes Elaine's mental hackles rise. Proud of herself, of course. It's no surprise that such a lady would be well-trained. Elaine doesn't know why she ever had hope. Regina might be bluffing, but it's unlikely. Elaine, once again, has nothing to stand on.
"Ah, how impressive, my lady," she says with as much of a matching smile as she can muster. "You must be quite skilled."
"Thank you. I've taught myself, mostly, but the textbooks my father made available throughout my youth were quite informative. By now, I can do most things on my own."
Elaine looks around at what she now knows to be potion ingredients and equipment scattered across the tables and floor. Poisons, Regina had said. Somehow, that makes the already intimidating woman before her even scarier. Thinking of what Regina could be capable of... it makes sense that she's a talented magic user as well. Someone like her would have to be.
There's nothing to say for herself. Elaine wouldn't speak of her own magic, anyway, but even thinking of moving a plate seems pitiful next to this mess of creativity and skill.