The Kingdom’s only shopping mall, the BudgetMasher, sat above a vast stagnant swamp. The entire complex loomed like a village built on stilts over brackish waters. Normally having your prime retail area positioned over a fetid marsh would be a problem, but the fact was, the unwelcomed presence of snakes and mosquitos motivated shoppers to stay indoors, spending coin. That is until pesticide carriages swept through and dumped toxic quantities of insect and reptile repellent on the streets and sidewalks. While that may seem extreme, it also provides a natural defense against other malignant pests of society, namely lawyers and politicians.
Despite this rather unusual setup, the mall did a brisk business, and most anything that folks wanted (but did not necessarily need) could be found in the multi-storey shops. Rachel’s carriage rolled to a stop in front of Diana’s Dresses and Corsets.
Carleen led the way. “Rachel Dahlin’, we must get you some decent formal wear, and a corset.”
Rachel’s skin prickled, and her hands grew clammy. OMG! A corset? “You are joking, aren’t you?”
With a toothy but cold smile, Carleen replied, “My dear, I don’t joke.”
Why do I believe that?
Drek slid out of the carriage and straightened her back. “Oi, I need a stiff drink. Is there a pub nearby?”
Carleen frowned at her. “Certainly not. A lady never finds herself in such a den of inequity.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Drek looked around. “Oh my, there’s Mike’s Dry Cleaning. I’ll see you later.” With a wink at the girl, she slipped toward the store, eyes gleaming.
Rachel eyed Carleen, who smiled thinly. Ugh, now it’s just you and me. The woman held open the door to Diana’s, and in she marched. Rachel followed like a convict being led to the executioner’s block. The next couple hours reinforced that impression and gave the girl enough subliminal nightmares to never again set foot inside a high fashion store. On the other hand, Carleen beamed with malicious delight as Rachel squeezed her pre-pubescent body into form-fitting dresses, and narrowly avoided having her internal organs strangulated by a corset.
Then, of course, came the shoes, foot born terror and torture devices designed to tip Rachel up on the balls of her feet, and make it impossible to walk without stumbling into walls, and fracturing a pelvis. At the point where she quite literally wanted to jump out a window, Carleen declared victory, hauled the detritus of the shopping massacre to the clerk. There the damage was calculated and added the Kingdom’s budget deficit.
As Rachel stumbled out of the storefront, she looked around but did not see Drek.
Carleen whizzed past and started for the carriage.
“Have you seen Drek?” Rachel asked.
“No, and I suspect we won’t. She probably fell into the swamp trying to find something to drink. For our part, I hope so, as I don’t wish to share a coach with that dreadful mess of a woman.”
She pulled the door open and was immediately greeted by a loud snort. Inside sat Drek, pitched over to one side, a blissful smile on her face, and a puddle of drool running down the front of her frock.
“Oh my,” Carleen said, recoiling in horror. What is this?”
“I would say Mike has some pretty serious dry cleaning chemicals,” Rachel replied, trying desperately to conceal her grin.
They climbed in, and Carleen sought to squeeze into the furthest corner from Drek. Unfortunately for Rachel, she had to sit next to Carleen, because as the coach started to move, Drek slid further and further down in her seat until she lay sprawled across it. Her loud snores rattled the windows and door, and breath carried on it the scent of several types of liquors, none of which Rachel was familiar with. Still, watching the gag reflex on her “handler” was quite entertaining.
“How long before we get to Summer Camp?” Rachel asked.
Carleen sighed, giving Drek the stink eye. “Probably another three hours, by which that point, maybe that …” she pointed at the Drek “… will be awake, and be convinced to eat a breath mint.”
Time passed slowly, as one can imagine when stuck in a carriage with a snoring witch and an arrogant fashion diva. Rachel tried to keep things light. “So, how long have you been a Princess preparation specialist?”
“That’s Specialist in Princess Preparation And Matchmaking,” Carleen corrected. “You forgot the matchmaking part.”
I was trying too.
“But to answer your question, seven years.”
“And before that?”
“Real estate, I flipped castles on the market, which was fine till the bottom fell out.”
“Was the market that bad?”
“No, the bottom fell out of the castle I was selling, and it sank into a swamp. After losing my fortune on that one, I quit my career and instead focused on the two things that I’m excellent at.”
“Fashion and marital incarceration.” She giggled with a surprised look on her face. “Oops, I meant marriage. Speaking of which, who are you betrothed to?”
“Excuse me? Betrothed?”
“Certainly. Haven’t your parents arranged your marriage?”
“I’m twelve. Boys are smelly and stupid.”
Carleen waved her hand dismissively. “Believe me, they don’t get much better on that as they age. The same can’t be said for their earning potential.”
“Wow, you’re absolutely mercenary.”
“Why thank you, dahlin’.”