Chapter 1: A Change of Color
The honorifics in Tarsan society indicate marriageability and relationships. For example, bespire and bedame respectively describe young men and women eligible for marriage. The other honorifics are "mo-" for children, "ta-" for married, and "ku-" for those undesirable for marriage. — Introduction to Tarsan
Lily ran her fingers along the bolts of fabric in her stash. The different textures tickled her skin, from the smoothness of the Masaton Silk to the rough flutters of her Kormar velvet. As she lingered, she could remember when and where she bought each one, a history of her life for the last decade laid out on narrow shelves and hooks.
She took a deep breath and enjoyed the delicate scent of flowers and incense that permeated the fabrics. The smells came from the magical runes that glowed faintly along the floor. The various arcane symbols protected her stash from fire, flood, insects, and thievery. The spells were all expensive, both to install and also for the annual maintenance, but it was better than losing thousands of jems worth of textiles.
Her fingers caught on a smooth fabric with tiny ripples and a floral pattern. She stopped and smiled. It was the right texture and weight for what she needed.
She tugged the bolt of deep purple cloth from the shelf and held it underneath her arm. As she turned, her own lace dress fluttered against the fabric and caught against one of the wooden shelves before she eased it free.
Her shoes tapped against the enchanted floor as she walked the length of her stash. The narrow aisle ran the entire length of her store. Shelves were on both sides, reaching up high enough that she needed a stool to reach. She kept her rarer and more expensive fabrics near the ceiling. Most of her customers were content with the more common supplies.
At the back of the store, she slipped through the door leading into her sewing area, and then into the fitting rooms. Her customers, Dame Djulian de Kasin na Maifir and her daughter, Nirih, stood in the center while idly looking at the painting and posters that lined the walls. Both women were narrow with pale skin, button noses, and wheat-colored hair.
To Lily’s experienced eyes, she could see the effort both went into presenting their best. The dame’s corset strained to contain her belly and her hair was too even in color for anything that didn’t come from a spell. The shade of her makeup didn’t hide the amount of it on her face. But, for a woman in her thirties and in High Society, she had the right posture and presence.
Her daughter, almost a copy of her mother, didn’t need nearly as much magic and makeup to be stunning. She had smaller breasts and narrower hips than her mother, but her youthful skin and natural grace would be the envy of most debutantes in the coming weeks.
Lily smiled brightly as she entered. “Dame and Bedame de Kasin, I think I found something you’ll love.”
Nirih looked at the bolt and frowned. “It’s the wrong color. It has to be Delicate Whispers of Gold, not… not that,” she gestured to it, “purple. Yellow, it has to be a yellow… the yellow.”
Before Lily could respond, the mother turned away but not enough for her voice to be muffled. “Doesn’t she know that? How can she not know this?”
Lily fought the urge to frown. She glanced over at the large poster near the door. It had this year’s plan for the Social Season including swatches of the official colors, style of dress, and even the feathers for the hats. The poster had cost her nearly a thousand jems, but it was necessary for her job as a seamstress.
Lily had been selling dresses for seven years, but it took decades to command higher prices. Her relatively inexperience limited how much she could charge which was why Djulian and her daughter stood in Lily’s store instead of Lily’s mentor’s receiving room. The dress the two would order from Lily would be for one of the minor social functions; the expensive dresses would be used for the grand affairs.
Over the half year of Nirih’s first year presentations, she would wear dozens of dresses to over a hundred functions, both small and large. High Society would inspect her for her grace, beauty, and her desirability as a wife. One of those merits would be her her collection of outfits. The more seamstresses and shoemakers that contributed to a young woman’s wardrobe, the more men fought over her. Many of the outfits would be worn once and abandoned.
Djulian held up her hand to her daughter and pointedly looked down at the bolt of fabric. “I was told you were an excellent seamstress with a keen eye for color and balance. But, if you can’t even understand the most basic,” she drawled out the word, “necessities of color, I can’t understand why Dame da Kasin ne Pavin would have recommended you over far more established women of the trade.”
She turned to her daughter. “Come on, Nirih, let’s find a more competent woman. One who understands the needs for society. One that commands a reasonable price. Good day, Kudame nea Genifir.”
Lily struggled for a moment with the sudden flash of anger. Being called a “kudame” was an insult because Lily was still of marriageable age for another few months. She deserved the honorific of “bedame” like Djulian’s daughter. There was no question that Djulian knew that.
Being referred by her father’s family, Genifir, added to the insult since she was born and raised a Kasin. She also had to be a Kasin to own a shop in town. If Djulian respected her, she would have used “dea Kasin.”
With a tight grip on the cloth, Lily took two deep breaths. As she did, she forced a smile and cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Dame and Bedame de Kasin, but I need your opinion on the texture of the fabric, not the color.”
As she spoke, she gathered her power and let it flow through her hands. It tingled along her skin as it spread out across her palm and into the fabric.
Djulian guided her daughter’s elbow toward the front door, speaking without looking at Lily. “There is a delicate balance of color and texture. Just giving us a poor sample won’t tell us anything. As everyone knows, dyeing the fabric… will…”
The older woman glanced over her shoulder at Lily, then froze. Her eyes widened in time with her mouth opening slightly.
Lily kept her eyes on the mother and her smile steady. The tingling of her power increased, flowing through the fabric. From the corner of her eye, she saw the tip of purple lighten into the perfect shade of yellow for the season, Delicate Whispers of Gold. She knew it would also have the proper highlights and shimmer. There wouldn’t be anyone in the city that would find a more accurate hue of color either.
“… change everything?” finished Djulian.
Nirih started to go through the door, but her mother’s hands held her in place. She frowned as she turned to her mother, presenting a profile of a young woman right on the cusp of being presented to the families of Tarsan. “Mother?”
Lily spoke respectfully. “As I was saying, Dame and Bedame de Kasin, I’m more interested in how you enjoy the texture of this fine cloth than the color. Hue is something easily and frequently changeable in my hands.” She held out the now yellow bolt of cloth.
Nirih turned and looked. Her eyes widened as did a smile across her face. “It’s… beautiful.”
Both mother and daughter rushed over to the bolt, snatching it from Lily’s hands and unrolling a few feet to stroke it along their cheeks and wrists. As they did, Lily looked over their dresses to get an idea of how much they would be willing to spend.
It was hard to place a Kasin in their own city. Only members of the family were allowed to live in the city and most of her customers had Kasin in their names. But it appeared that Djulian was one of the more affluent members judging from the quality of her outfit and the overbearing tones.
Because they were asking for a dress mostly of cream with the Delicate Whispers of Gold as a trim, Nirih was obviously the debutante for the year. It was her first, best, and probably only chance to find a husband after being presented to the various families of Tarsan. She had the same look as the other young women that showed up at Lily’s door in the last few months: flawless skin that only spells could maintain, pink lips colored by expensive makeup, long eyelashes sparkling with glitter, and even a small bust that was currently in fashion. The younger woman also wore a corset discretely underneath her dress. It was invisible except to someone who fitted corsets herself, though the girl wore it for style not necessity.
Her mother, Dame Djulian, wore a beautiful dress. Lily recognized the stitching as Penir da Kasin’s, the woman who had taught Lily how to be a seamstress. The way the fabric complimented Djulian’s figure and the faintest discoloration around the hips told Lily that it was recently altered but someone other than Penir.
Lily decided to charge Djulian a high price for her attitude. She noted it and then joined into the discussion between the mother and daughter. She emphasized the richness of the fabric and the rarity of the texture. It was somewhat of an exaggeration, but after seeing so many debutantes come through her store in the last nine years, she had a good idea of how to describe her dresses in the perfect terms to sell it to their mothers and aunts.
One conversation led to the other and soon they were picking out designs from hand-painted picture books that Lily had gathered over the years. When they couldn’t find the perfect outfit, she pulled out her sketch book and drew ideas. And then redrew it again and again until they figured out exactly what they wanted.
“How much?” came the final question, Djulian’s shoulders tensing.
“Please allow me a moment, Dame and Bedame de Kasin,” answered Lily before taking her copious notes to a corner desk. She already knew the price, eight thousand jems, but it took her a moment to write down an itemized list of colors, fabrics, and patterns on the page to justify the amount. She added her own labor, which doubled the price, along with a few random numbers to make it look like she wasn’t make everything up. When she finished, she came and discretely handed the paper to Djulian.
Djulian turned as she looked away. Lily watched as her eyes scanned the page, growing wide for a moment when she reached the back. It took her almost a minute before she looked up. “What is this insurance line?”
Lily smiled. “That is a new service, offered by the Welkers’ down the street. For that price, they will ensure that your daughter’s dress will be available no less than…” She glanced at the day to double-check her memory. “… the fourth day of the second week, just in time for the sixth when this dress will be needed.”
“And if it isn’t? If you aren’t going to make it in time, then there won’t be enough time to make another.” There was enough concern in Djulian’s voice that her daughter looked worried.
“And then the bank will give you a hundred times that amount.” Not that Lily would ever miss a deadline.
“But then my daughter still won’t have her dress. That is unacceptable. I’ll—”
“The bank will pay immediately, in jems. With that much money, you could easily afford a Patrir nea Riven or Samual de Kasin da Robin dress.” As Lily listed the two famous dressmakers in the city, Djulian’s eyes opened. Having a Patrir or a Samual would launch Nirih’s presentation into the eyes of High Society.
Sensing that she could get Djulian to purchase it, Lily changed topics to fit the more sour aspects of the older woman’s personality. “In addition, failing to make the dress would destroy my reputation as well as my mentor’s.” Lily gestured to Djulian’s dress, “I would not sully Tadame Penir da Kasin de Golid’s own honor if I wasn’t to fulfill my commissions. So, I promise you, your daughter will have her dress on time.”
“A hundred times?” asked Djulian, her eyes flickering back and forth.
“A hundred times. In coinage.” When the bank suggested the insurance, Lily almost balked at it. She never would have thought the promise of insurance would be a selling point of the dresses, but the one line item had sold two dresses that year already.
Djulian sighed and then smiled. It was a little forced, but it didn’t show in her voice when she spoke. “Very well.”
“Mother, how much?” asked her daughter.
“It is not for a polite lady to ask,” snapped Djulian.
Lily put on the appropriately demure face. Inwardly, she was brimming with joy. Between Nirih’s dress and the three others already ordered for the first few weeks, she was set for having a good year. She stood up and held out her hand for Nirih. “Come, let me measure you so I can get started.”