If she hadn't had lessons at That Castle to look forward to, Marianne really thought she might have loaded her things onto Dolly's back and run away to London like Luke Pinhoe had in the old stories.
Mum kept giving her these looks, suspicious-like, out of the corners of her eyes, but that wasn't a patch on the way Dad would glare. Dad glared and grumped like Marianne was everything that was wrong with the Pinhoe line. It made him look small and mean, and Marianne could suddenly see crystal clear why no one had ever called him Gaffer.
In the rare moments when she was alone in her room or the garden, with no one scowling or judging, Marianne sat quiet and glowed with the realization that no one would ever call her Gammer, either.
At first glance, Julia and Janet were quite intimidating. Julia wasn't pretty, but she was cool and confident and so very well dressed. Marianne had never felt such a country girl before the morning she first stood awkwardly in the schoolroom in her pinafore, staring across the floor at Julia Chant in her petticoats and lace.
And Janet! Janet was even worse. She was a confusion of delicate blonde curls and big blue eyes, juxtaposed against boy's trousers and blinding ignorance. Marianne had frankly stared at her until Janet gave her a friendly nod and said, "Don't mind me too much; I'm from another world."
Thank heavens for Cat. He slouched into the schoolroom, wrinkled his nose at the three of them, and said, "At least with Joe, we still have an equal number of boys and girls." And just like that, he united them. All at once, they weren't Chrestomanci's daughter, a ward from another world, and an uneducated local lass; they were the girls together. Marianne didn't even fight to keep the smile off her face when she saw it matched on Julia and Janet's.
Days and weeks and years later, Marianne would hear Mr. Saunders or Millie or Miss Bessemer ask, "Where are the girls? What are the girls up to?" and it always gave her a soft warmth in the pit of her stomach. Somehow, being just one of the girls made her feel like she belonged.
Marianne didn't know what her future looked like, but she suspected it was something like Millie, who was steady and reliable and boring and an enchanter like Marianne. Yes, she thought her future looked like Millie, that thought filled her with a dull disappointment.
It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Millie. She was just so ... ordinary. She was a good mother and a kind hostess, and other nice things that were nevertheless completely dull.
That's what Marianne thought for her first several months at the castle. Then, just before the nip in the air turned to snow, Something happened. All of the adults suddenly went very grave and tense, but wouldn’t talk about why. It made the supper table horribly uncomfortable, and whatever the Something was, it kept drawing Chestomanci away from the castle for days at a time.
And then on a Tuesday afternoon, just after the tea things had been cleared, Millie suddenly sat bolt upright. She had a bit of sewing in her hands, and at first Marianne thought she’d stabbed her thumb with the needle.
“Children, please return to the nursery,” Millie said. Her voice was brisk and business-like, and not at all out of the ordinary, but her eyes were bright and wide. Marianne and the others slouched out of the room as slowly as possible, to try to see what was going on, but all Marianne caught as the door shut behind her was Millie’s voice calling, “Chrestomanci, Chrestmanci, Chrestomanci!”
The evening was all rush and bustle, with the children being kept safely out of the way, and Marianne never did learn how the Something was resolved. But she knew Millie had been the one who fixed it. Even if it hadn’t been for the deferential government employees joining them at dinner and gushing over ‘Lady Chant,’ she would have guessed it from the way Chrestomanci had looked at his wife as she presided over the table. His expression wasn’t vague or bored at all, and there was nothing sarcastic about the way he mouthed, “Goddess,” at her when he thought no one was looking.
Marianne blushed down at her plate and decided that winding up like Millie might not be too bad.
Klartch was a wonderful mixture of pet, friend, and baby cousin, all rolled up in a fascinating, mythical package. Marianne loved him, but then, everyone loved Klartch. The splendid thing was, Klartch loved Marianne right back.
Oh, he didn’t prefer her over Cat, but Marianne was hardly bothered by that. Cat was unique in more way than just having nine lives. (Or three, or however many he had nowadays.) He was bursting at the seams with dwimmer and enchanter magic, and his mind seemed to work differently from other people’s, and he doted on Klartch even more than he did on that horse of his. So Marianne didn’t mind that Klartch loved Cat best, because he clearly loved her second best.
“It’s because you’re sensible,” Cat told Marianne approvingly one day. They were lying on the lawn after a long bout of Klartch-ball, Klartch himself a satisfied lump of feathers and fur between them. “But you’ve got imagination. It’s amazing how rare it is to find both of those things together.”
Marianne scratched her fingers through the feathers at the base of Klartch’s wings. She still thought ‘sensible’ sounded rather boring, but she supposed it was true. She was a Pinhoe, after all. Show her a crisis, and she would face it head-on with a plan and a plate of sandwiches for her cohort.
‘Imagination,’ though. She’d always thought of her imagination as rather frivolous. Dreaming and thinking of stories made her feel happy, but in a guilty way, like eating her pudding before her dinner. What’s so special about imagination?” she asked, leaning her cheek against Klartch’s flank.
Cat frowned a bit as he marshaled his thoughts. “If you’d no imagination, you couldn’t put yourself in other people’s shoes,” he said. “So you wouldn’t be as kind. And you wouldn’t think of games to play or stories to tell, so you wouldn’t be as much fun. And you wouldn’t think of new ways to use magic or dwimmer, so you wouldn’t be as interesting. And you-“
Marianne laughed. “I see, I see,” she said. “I never knew imagination was such a virtue.”
‘Imagination.’ A year ago, she’d never imagined having friends like this, having people who listened to her and took her seriously. She’d never imagined that Chrestomanci Castle could go from That Castle to home. Clearly, she needed to work on developing her imagination more. For her own good.