Tarsan has many queens. They aren’t the glorious rules on a throne but simply mistresses of each of the grand houses. They rule with an iron fists and a capaciousness that would rival any country.
— No Greater Sorrow, Act II, Scene IV
Manor Rose was a beautiful sprawling house on the southern side of the grand city of Spire’s Point. After the fire nine years ago destroyed most of the east wing, Lily’s mother had it rebuilt with newer architectural designs that brought out the manor’s namesake in a pervasive theme: carved roses topped the pillars, the steps were inlaid with mosaics of every color in the current season, and even the smell of roses that permeated everything. The outside of the house glowed a faint pale pink throughout the night, thanks to an alchemical glaze from inlands.
Most of the outlying buildings had no additional lights burning outside. It would be two weeks before the next social event, a dinner and dance, so there was no rush to prepare everything. Instead, it was a moment of stillness before the storm Lily knew would come.
Despite the late hour and her yawns, her heart quickened slightly at the sight of the main entrance of the house. Coming home was a comfort to her, a place of stability and control when the rest of her life had become harried and functional.
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the double doors. Pale yellow light shone across the inside of the carriage. It mixed with the flickers of green as Tabithas hopped off the bench and came around next to a doorman who was already opening the door.
Lily scooped up the bag with the dress and handed it to the doorman. “To my room, please?”
“Of course, Bedame dea Kasin.” Like Tabithas, the doorman always spoke formally even though Lily had grown up with both of them for her entire life.
The doorman stepped away as Tabithas held out her gloved hand.
Lily took it and stepped out of the carriage. She breathed in the rose scent that surrounded the house and smiled. She was home.
“Tadame da Kasin will be in her library,” said Tabithas.
“She is expecting me?”
“Your presence was requested, Bedame dea Kasin.”
Lily headed up the marble stairs leading into the house and into the grand entrance of Manor Rose. True to its name, the manor’s decorations were mostly pink marble and intricate decorations of roses, vines, and other beautiful flowers. The tips of each petal was subtly colored to match the flower’s natural beauty and it gave Lily the impression of walking into a timeless garden each time she came home.
Knowing that her mother expected her, Lily headed straight up the stairs and into her mother’s private wing. The décor changed slightly. On both sides of the hallway, paintings of the Kasin family were intermixed with pastoral scenes of the surrounding countryside. Lily’s eyes were drawn to the scenes with her in them, usually as a little girl with so much promise before everything fell around her. At the far end of the hall was a single empty place by her mother’s library door; it would have been Lily’s when she took over the household, but a spinster couldn’t be the mistress of any family.
Seeing the empty spot, she twisted her face in frustration and looked away. She continued down the hall, the thick carpet tugging at her toes with each step. It was as if the woven were manifesting her mother’s desire not to see her daughter.
After making an effort to bring a smile to her lips, she knocked on the door.
“Come in.” Her mother spoke perfunctory, which meant she was reading or focusing on accounting. She had invested in a number of lace businesses, the stores and services that catered to society’s women. Lily’s store was one of them.
Lily opened the door and stepped inside, the memories rising up of the countless times she interrupted Sarlin or was presented for punishment.
In the years, her mother had only grown more beautiful. Even without expecting guests, her hair remained in its intricate braid that was popular in the last few years. Streaks of gray were carefully arranged so they highlighted the curves of her braid. The variety of blondes and browns in her hair, along with the gray, were a point of pride; Sarlin didn’t use magic to remain beautiful.
Lily inched forward. “Good evening, Mother.”
Her voice was muted by the floor to ceiling bookcases filled with books on hundreds of topics ranging from poetry, literature, and guides for keeping households. Like most married women in Society, Sarlin’s duties focused on managing the manor and any associated “lace” businesses such as Lily’s shop.
Every month, Lily had to present her books to her mother and go through the accounting of her sales and expenses. In the beginning, it was hard, but over the last few years, Lily had grown comfortable with running a business under her mother’s watchful eye.
Sarlin looked up from her papers. Her brown eyes shimmered behind tiny, wire-frame glasses. “And to you, my daughter. Please, sit.”
Lily dipped into a respectful curtsy, lowering just a few inches, and then slipped into her mother’s padded guest chair. She kept her back straight as she sat down and rested both hands, still raw from cleaning her storefront, crossed over her thighs.
Her mother shuffled through the pages, setting stacks of accounting aside to bring up a calendar. Her movements were precise and wasted no effort, but there was something about how her mother moved that prickled Lily’s attention. Sarlin’s nails tapped a little harder than normal and Lily could see muscles tense in her mother’s neck and around her lips.
Lily’s breath quickened. She glanced around the room but then brought her attention back to her mother.
Her mother’s lips parted for a moment but then closed. She set her calendar on top of her papers and then looked up.
Lily waited with as calm of an expression as she could, a half-smile that all Society women mastered.
“At the end of this Social Season, you will be twenty-seven.” Her mother’s voice was steel, the same tone she used when she was about to punish Lily for misbehaving or reproaching for her failing to keep her books in order.
Despite Lily’s efforts, her smile dropped from her face.
“You have remained in this house as my daughter and bedame, but after this season, you will become a kudame.”
Lily’s heart pounded in her chest. She clutched her fingers together, unsure of what to say.
Sarlin shook her head and rested one delicate, polished finger against the calendar. It was the last day of the Social Season, marked with gold leaf. It would also be the grandest party in Kasin and would be set at the Grand Ball at the center of town. “By the last day, you must be moved out of my home.”
It was hard to breathe. Lily gasped for a moment, trying to respond appropriately. The words wouldn’t come out, not with the sudden order. She gulped as a burning spread across her eyes and ice water dribbled down her spine.
Sarlin’s silvery brown eyes fixated on Lily. The older woman said nothing but the weight of her gaze bore down.
Finally, Lily found words. “B-But, where should I go? I don’t… I never thought…” A tear ran down Lily’s cheek.
Sarlin’s eyes softened for a moment. “I know the… circumstances of your presentation has hung over you for years, but I always hoped someone would ask for your hand in marriage despite… the troubles. Unfortunately, superstitions made it too easy for others to forget you.”
“Why can’t I stay here?” Even as she asked, Lily knew the answer. Society had many rituals. A bedame may remain in her parent’s homes while waiting for marriage, but a kudame would never get married. They were shuffled to smaller houses in the poorer districts to be easily forgotten in the rush of High Society. It was, in effect, how she would be banned from the elevated circles of society.
She sniffed and fumbled for one of the silk handkerchiefs her mother kept hanging on the corner of her desk.
Sarlin’s hand caught hers. “Lily.”
Lily’s tears roll down her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
Her mother stood up and came around the desk, still holding her hand. She pulled Lily from the chair and pulled her into a tight hug. She smelled of her favorite rose perfume. “You are my daughter and that will never change. I’m not going to abandon you, I promise.”
“I-I tried but no… no one wants me.”
“I know. I know,” whispered her mother.
“W-What do I do?”
“Kasin will take care of you. We’ll find you a good home. It won’t be the manor, but it will be a good house for you.”
“And my store? What if I don’t make enough to pay for a place… a place of my own?”
“We’ll cover the payments of your store and the house for five more years. That will be enough to establish yourself. After that…”
Lily rested her cheek against her mother’s shoulder.
Sarlin didn’t finish the sentence. Instead, she hugged Lily tightly. “I’m sorry, daughter. I’m sorry all this happened. I wish there was anything I could do but I can’t afford a scandal anymore than you.”
No matter what words were said, High Society still bound both of them in their places. Lily was to become a kudame and would forever be cursed to live as a spinster.