Chapter 2: A Moment of Quiet

The tears of answering to a title that strikes deep into the gut must remain hidden. It is part of the show that cast-off actors must continue to play until they can slip off stage. — The Forgotten Daughter (Act 3, Scene 9)

When the Kasins left, they were bubbling with excitement. Any concerns over the high price or Djulian’s insults had faded with a few sweets, a bottle of red wine, and the casual conversations as Lily measured the younger woman.

Lily hoped they would come back to her for the outfits in the later weeks of the Social Season, the summer weeks. If Nirih presented well on the first few weeks, they would probably return to have Lily make the remaining dresses for the season. If two of the debutantes did that, Lily would be comfortable until the next season.

Most of the time, when there was a poor presentation, it was blamed on the dress, makeup, and everything but the young lady wearing it. A strike like that would make it hard for Lily to pay her bills.

She sat down on the chair and let out a sigh. Djulian calling her kudame and not using her mother’s family name hurt more than she thought it would. She was still a bedame, a woman capable of being betrothed, but there was only a few months left of that. Then she would become a kudame for the rest of her life, a spinster incapable of being married and doomed to spend her days sewing for the young women of High Society.

The excitement of the sale faded quickly. With a hiss, she reached over and pulled the last wine bottle from the ice bucket. Between the three of them, they had finished almost three quarters of it. No reason to let the rest go to waste. She refilled her narrow wine glass and breathed in the scents of the mid-vintage wine.

Outside the front door, she saw pedestrians strolling by. It was late afternoon, which meant most of them were heading to their final stores before getting in the carriages to return home for a rest before the formal dinners started. Very few people ordered dresses in the latter part of the day, not after eating and walking, but she couldn’t afford a single missed customer if she closed early.

Instead, she leaned back in the chair and sipped at her wine. As soon as the sun touched the horizon, she would be heading to her mother’s home for a night of dinner and then quiet reading. There were no more suitors or parties in her life. In many ways, she was already a kudame.

A group of women walked across the front of Lily’s store, their dresses and bags fluttering in the wind. In the center was a young girl wearing a cream dress. She had the same hopeful and excited look that Lily had nine years ago.

Back then, Lily was seventeen and ready to find her husband. Her mother and her aunt had gone with her, picking out the perfect dresses for every week of the Social Season, each one with brilliant color and a perfect fit.

They were so excited then, going from store to store as they argued over the patterns and the trim for her outfits. Stories of the formal events, games, and concerts had swum in her head. She was going to be married to a rich husband and enjoy the bounty of the Kasin family’s connections for the rest of her life.

And then on the day of her presentation, there was a brawl between two men fighting for her hand. Instead of gracefully putting in a bid for her hand with her father, they had a bloody fist fight on the horse track. It didn’t matter that Lily wasn’t involved, everyone knew they were fighting for her and her reputation suffered. The event also tarnished her family’s reputation but she managed to dance and laugh her way through it.

The next party sealed her fate when two men dueled over her. If it had just ended with one man slinking away, she could have used the incident to show her desirability. Instead the loser refused to acknowledge defeat and started a brawl that had to be stopped by the family heads while Lily’s mother’s manor burned. The party ended as did her chances of finding of ever finding a husband.

A reputation of bad luck settled down over her shoulders and suddenly the offers for her hand faded away, withdrawn in superstition and the further tarnishing of her family’s reputation.

A tear ran down her cheek. She was supposed to be happy by now, maybe even with a daughter of her own as they spent their nights planning debutante dresses and dreaming of the man her daughter would marry. Instead, she sat alone in the front of a dress store and watched everyone else enjoy their lives while she was doomed to become a spinster until the end of her days.

Sniffing, Lily drained her glass and set it down. After a few seconds, she emptied the bottle into it and stared at the last inch of red wine that pooled in the bottom of her glass.

There was a flash of movement. She looked up just as a black-suited man rushed into the store and closed the door behind him. A bowler slipped off his head and bounced off his shoulder. He caught it before it landed. She only saw a flash of an angular nose and blue eyes before he turned his back to her and peered out the window.

Lily stood up, slightly woozy from her drinking. She struggled to wipe the tear from her cheek, hoping that it didn’t ruin her makeup. “E-Excuse me.”

The stranger held his out his hand toward her. “Hold on.”

She stared at the back of the stranger. He wore a black, pin-stripe suit that was fashionable a few years ago. The edges were scuffed and she spotted large blotches of discoloration from too many hours in the sun. The long tail fluttered against the back of his legs, the fabric of his trousers clinging to his legs. His muscles flexed along his thighs and shins as he balanced up on his toes. His shoes, a rich polished black, creaked with his movements. They were new and she could see signs that the suit had been recently, and poorly, mended.

He pressed his left hand against the glass. There was no marriage bracelet on his wrist. He pulled his fingers down against the glass, leaving streaks on her polished window.

Annoyance rose inside her. He had intruded in her store and was marring her window with his hand. She pressed her knuckles against her hip. “Excuse me!”

“Hold on, just need to wait…” His voice trailed off as three men in suits rushed by. They were all wearing suits and had unsheathed swords in their hands. She spotted the Martin crest on the hilts, one of the families a few towns along the coast.

The lead man’s weapon glowed faintly of magic. As he passed in front of the glass, previously invisible rune flickered to life and trailed after him. Knowing that resonance from the weapon could cause her expensive glass to shatter if it got too close, Lily stepped forward. “No, not just a second! You don’t come into my store and ruin my glass and—”

He held up his hand. “Quiet, tadame.”

The anger flushing her cheeks, she grabbed the empty wine bottle and stormed toward him, brandishing the bottle like a weapon. “I am not a tadame. I am ku—”

Lily froze in the effort to prevent the wrong word from escaping her throat. She stopped and gulped as she felt her face grow pale.

He waved his hand. “Sorry, kudame.”

The simple, distracted response set her off. She straightened her back and planted her hands on her hips. “I am Bedame Lily da Kasin de Genifir! And you will look at me when you’re in my store!”

His head jerked up. His shoulders tensed and she saw a ripple of muscles against the back of his suit. “I knew a Lily before…” He turned and looked back at her.

Lily stepped back and pressed a hand to her lips. Nine years ago, he had stolen her first kiss as they danced in the gazebo of her mother’s home. There was no way she could have forgotten his strong lips or the way rain trickled down his throat right before he walked away. Even the thin scruff of a beard wouldn’t have hidden his high cheeks or detracted from the bright blue eyes that stared back at her.

It was Kendrick, the man won the duel that had ruined Lily’s life.

His mouth opened with surprise. He smiled and held open his hands. “Is that really—”

Without thinking, Lily slammed the empty wine bottle into the side of his head, shattering glass and scattering bright flecks of crimson across the front of her store.

A bolt raced through her body, a shock of the impact and her own reaction.

The broken bottle slipped from Lily’s hand, one sharp edge dragging against her finger before the glass plummeted to the ground. She didn’t have time to raise her hand to her mouth before it struck the wooden floor.

She jerked at the loud crunch but couldn’t tear her eyes away from Kendrick.

He stood there, wine running down his face and small shards of glass clinging to his hair. For a moment, his eyes softened into sadness, but then it faded under a spark of humor that she thought she remembered from almost a decade before. “You know,” he said in a rough voice, “There were a lot of nights that I practiced what I would say to you if I ever got the chance to see you again.”

Kendrick reached up and wiped some of the glass from his cheek. Droplets of red wine cling to his fingertips. His eyes caught hers, warm without a hint of anger from having a glass broken over his head. “I also dreamed of how you would respond. Though, I never expected this.”

Lily took a deep breath, the pressure of her corset squeezing on her chest and making it difficult inhale. Her body tingled with anticipation, a sensation of something about to happen, but she couldn’t imagine what it could be. It had been years since she thought of Kendrick, though it took little effort to bring up the anger that his abandonment and betrayal had left behind.

She inhaled again, this time without surprise and more of fury. “Ten years! You ruined my life and then disappeared!” Her scream was shrill against the walls.

His eyes widened and he stepped back with his hands up. “Lily, I didn’t—”

“No!” She snapped. “You don’t get to use my name. I would have been a tadame if it wasn’t for you.” A tear burned in her eye as she shoved him back toward the glass. “I was going to be your tadame!”

Kendrick froze, the muscles of his jaw tightening.

Tears streamed down Lily’s cheek as memories came rushing back. “You left me, Kendrick. Left me, right in the middle of the great hall with everyone watching me. That was suppose to be my day, my moment. And then… and then… you just…” A sob caught in her throat. “You just disappeared.”

She turned away. “You left me, Ken.”

Kendrick exhaled. “Lily, I—”

“No!” she snapped back around, lifting her arm to slap him. “Never again. You never…” Her voice trailed off as she realized a jagged line of blood had snaked its way down his face, tracing the curve of his cheekbone and along the line of his rough beard.

Kendrick shook his head. He knelt down, his eyes focused on her. She felt pinned in place by his stare. The last time she was held by his gaze, he was inching closer to steal her first kiss. He almost knelt before he picked up something and stood up. As he did, he bowed his head and broke his intense stare.

Lily trembled as she watched him lean into his bowler hat and set it down on his head. A splatter of blood struck the broken glass bottle at his feet, ringing out with a soft ping.

When he looked up, his face was in shadows. The streak of blood became a black, sinister line. “My apologies, Bedame dea Kasin. I have lost the honor to speak to you.” His voice was suddenly dark and rumbling, a growl that filled the room.

Lily choked on the sound of it, her body trembling as she saw anger flash under the brim.

Kendrick reached out to the side and she followed the movement with her eyes. His hands were rough and scarred, far different than the soft fingers that had tilted her chin up into a kiss. He stretched his fingers out and a prickle ran along her senses, like a hot breath against the small of her back.

Droplets of wine swirled below his hand, gathering together into a shimmering puddle. Behind him, the splash against the glass front crawled along the glass toward him in a spiderweb pattern. The droplets left glittering trails behind.

Lily watched as the wine plucked itself off the ground and floated into glistening droplets. They hovered above the ground for a few seconds before rising up to gather in his palm.

The trickle of blood from his head joined the motion, appearing underneath the cuff of his shirt and joining the gathering liquid in his palm. The blood quickly disappeared in the darker red wine.

He turned his back to her. Up close, she could see the rough stitching and repairs to his suit. It was old and faded. Someone had recently dyed it, but the colors weren’t quite a match and she knew that it had spent the last few years exposed to sun or wind.

“Good day, Bedame,” said Kendrick. He opened the glass-panned door with his free hand and stepped out. The globe of floating liquid followed after him, shimmering in the fading sunlight.

A cry rose up down the street to Lily’s right.

Kendrick looked over his shoulder toward the noise. He glared and turned away, storming down the street.

A moment later, one of the Martin men who was chasing Kendrick came rushing after him, running on the sidewalk in front of Lily’s store.

Kendrick snapped his hand back without looking. The handful of wine and blood launched itself from his palm and shot behind him before splashing against the Martin’s face. Sheets of wine and blood coated the front of her store, covering almost a third of the glass and staining everything.

Lily gasped, her mouth opening with her surprise. She screamed after him. “You bastard!”