Chapter 1: Measured
The debutante’s best chance to fulfill her purpose as a married woman comes from the debutante balls where she is presented before eligible men, besires, from all ages of eighteen to eighty. — Polistar da Halin, The Dance of Grace
Galadin perched on the uncomfortable seat of the tailor’s front room and stared into front window display. Four mannequins with formal black suits filled the area but his interest remained fixed on the fifth, an exaggerated female shape made of wood and reeds. The fabric of her dress rustled with the wind breezing through the open door and he loved how the sleeves moved like ocean waves.
He wondered what it would feel like if he wore it. A faint smile crossed his lips as he tried to imagine the layers of light material against his skin. Would it be heavy or light? He wanted to reach out and touch it.
He jumped at his mother’s voice. Turning around, he clasped his hands in his lap. “Yes, Mother.”
“Stop staring like an imbecile at that damn dress and come over here.” She gestured curtly to a platform next to her.
“Sorry,” he said with a blush and got up.
“Don’t say sorry. Men do not say sorry.”
She glared but didn’t add anything. After a moment, she snapped her fingers and pointed to the pedestal again.
“He’s fine, Dame Maran,” said the tailor. He stood next to her, wearing a suit like the ones in the display area but without the jacket. Instead of a tie, he wore a pair of cloth measuring tapes around his neck. The long strips of marked fabric reached down to his belt.
“No, he isn’t fine. He’s never fine in places like this.”
Quietly, Galadin got up on the platform, turned around, and held out his arms. As much as he dreamed about going to the annual presentation balls, this was not what he hoped for.
The tailor gave terse instructions as he measured Galadin from wrist to ankle, inseam and even around the neck. His movements were rough, the fingernails digging into Galadin’s sensitive ribs as he worked his way down a notebook filled with measurements.
“What will the young Kasin desire?” asked the tailor.
“Black,” his mother said.
“Of course, there is only one color for a true gentleman. Are you interested in a single-breasted jacket? They are quite popular.”
His mother pulled a face. “The Kasins are a proper family with respect for the traditional ways.” She straightened her back. “We are not people who follow the fashions of the lazy. My son will not be found dead in those… things.”
The tailor didn’t even pause. He took more directions from Galadin’s mother with grace and patience. Her sharp tones didn’t even bring a twitch to the old man’s face. Throughout the process, neither spoke to Galadin as if he was present.
The effort to keep his arms up began to burn. He lowered them minutely. When his mother glared at him, he forced himself to lift them again.
She rolled her eyes and returned to giving the tailor directions.
Galadin listened to his mother with only half an ear. His opinions rarely mattered but ever since she found out that he wanted to go to the presentation balls, nothing he could tell her would change her ways. As she charged forward ensuring he would be there as her only son, he felt another shovel of dirt being dumped on what he really wanted.
To distract himself, he gazed around the room but found nothing but somber, strict outfits. None of them were appealing, not a single would invoked even a hint of joy in his heart. He let his gaze drift to what he really wanted, the only bright point in the room, the green dress in the window.
Galadin knew that young women had it worse. A presentation was their one and only chance of finding a husband. They were primped, feathered, and trained for most of their childhoods in hopes of being selected by a husband. Starting at age sixteen, they would be paraded in front of eligible besires in hopes to be picked as a wife. If they weren’t selected, they would do it again and again with their prospects dropping with their age.
And yet, he would prefer to be fitted for a dress instead of being measured for a suit he knew he would hate.
A group of women crossed in front of the store. It was a cluster of mothers and aunts around a pair of young women wearing cream outfits. They were all laughing as they carried bags from clothing stores, boxes of shoes and hats, and even the remains of a lunch.
They looked happy.
“Are you looking at that dress again?” hissed his mother.
Galadin tore his eyes away guilty and pointedly stared at one of the suits. It was nice, but he couldn’t imagine himself wearing it. Whenever he thought about the somber outfits that his mother wanted him to wear, it was as if he was looking at someone in the suit, not him looking out.
She glared at him. “Get down, we’re done.”
Turning to the tailor, she held out her hand.
He kissed it lightly, his lips skimming the surface. “Always a pleasure, Maran da Kasin ho Kamer.”
The tailor had used her formal name, naming her father’s family of Kasin and her mother’s of Kamer.
Maran guided her son out of the store and down the street in a brisk pace. “You need to stop staring at women and dresses. You are a young gentleman now. You need to act like it.”
Galadin followed and said nothing.
“Come on, you are late for your dance lessons.”